Pickerington North track and field coach Dave Spring remembers the day Stevie McElroy came into his classroom last year and said he was interested in running for the Panthers.

Previously a lacrosse player, McElroy -- then a sophomore -- felt like branching out and splitting time between the two sports.

Spring cautioned McElroy that he would have to be creative with his schedule, but McElroy was not fazed.

Spring also remembered that shortly before track season started, McElroy's father called and wondered where his son would fit on the team.

"I didn't know at first whether he'd be running varsity or junior varsity, but then I remember calling his dad back after we did a time trial in practice and saying, 'Not only will your son be varsity, he'll be one of the fastest guys on the team and he's never even been in a meet,' " Spring said. "It was obvious he had natural ability and it was a matter of getting himself in track shape and seeing how far we could take it."

Less than a year later, McElroy had a podium finish at the Division I state meet and an All-American distinction to his name.

McElroy anchored the Panthers' sixth-place 3,200-meter relay at state and qualified for the New Balance Nationals in the 400, and although that meet -- like North's season -- was canceled because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, he was named a preseason All-American thanks to his qualifying time of 48.02 seconds.

The honor went to athletes with the top six qualifying times in each event.

Previous All-Americans at North include Nick Gray and Desmond Palmer, who went on to compete at Ohio State and Pittsburgh, respectively.

"It means a lot, coming from playing lacrosse onto a big stage and being able to earn that status, being able to accomplish something where everybody doesn't get to that level," said McElroy, now a junior. "I was very excited for this season. I wanted to get out there and show everybody what I have and hopefully help my team to a state championship. I wanted to make Pick North history."

McElroy continued to play lacrosse, in which he was a faceoff specialist and a midfielder, throughout last season even as it became clear to him and Spring that his track future was promising.

McElroy won the 400 at the OCC-Ohio Division meet and was runner-up in the district 2 meet to help North tie Canal Winchester for the team championship. He also was on the second-place 3,200 relay and third-place 1,600 relay.

The 3,200 relay placed fifth at regional and earned an at-large state berth.

"That exceeded my expectations by a lot," said McElroy, who credited assistant coach Jamie Hence and teammates Enrique Cabotage, Jalaun Covington and Zemen Siyoum, among others, for helping his acclimation to track. "I remember we were at the (season-opening) Hammond Relays last year and (Spring) just threw me in the 400. I ended up having a really good race and from there, I felt like I just took off."

Spring said he had anticipated running McElroy in the 100, 200 and 400 this season but added that McElroy would try distance and field events if he could.

"Stevie can run anything. He's a sprinter, for sure, but he has some get-up-and-go for the distance events, too," Spring said. "He figured out what to do last year and got his feet wet. He really opened some eyes, not only across Ohio, but beyond with some of the times he was running. We were excited about what he was going to be able to do for outdoor ... but it will be nice that he gets next year, too."

McElroy runs for Hence with the Pacesetter Track Club and plans to use this summer and next winter to make up for time lost this spring.

"It makes me really hungry. I can't wait to get back out on the track," McElroy said. "I'd say I'm antsy. I just can't wait to get back out there and do what I love to do."

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

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