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Memories of past state track meets

It’s Friday. I should be at Drake Stadium roaming around covering area high school athletes on the second day of the 2020 Iowa High School State Track and Field Championship meet.

But alas, we’ve been denied the special three-day event because of the COVID-19 health crisis. The spring sports seasons were lost to the pandemic restrictions.

The 2020 Iowa state track meet would have been my 38th state track meet overall. Out of 33 years of covering high school track in Kansas, I missed one track meet when I covered a West Point graduation of an area young man. I’m in my seventh year here in Newton covering Iowa high school sports.

I had some time to ponder my years and all the high school athletes who graced the track and the field events here and in Kansas. I witnessed amazing accomplishments by young people dedicated to the sport — and I’m not just referring to state championships.

Finding out Iowa held it’s state track meet — coed — with all four classifications at one time and in one place made me feel right at home. Kansas holds its track and field state championships together with six classifications and also is co-ed.

Covering an all-encompassing high school event is a tremendous opportunity to see not only the student athletes we cover in our area but all the tremendous talent across the state at every level.

I’ve always loved working the state track meet — it’s a tough task for a sports staff trying to get photos of every athlete and make sure everyone is covered — but the reward is tremendous. There are athletes missed and events missed simply because of time and distance restraints at the venues.

My first spring season at the Newton Daily News was 2013-14. I was on my own as we had a sports writer vacancy from the end of winter seasons to right before the track meet. I didn’t feel it was fair throwing the new guy right into the fire of state track so he held the fort down doing area baseball and softball previews.

I told myself, ‘I got this’ because in the 33 years covering the Kansas high school state track and field meet, I worked the event alone, trying to cover athletes from seven high schools.

The 2014 state meet produced four state championships for area schools. Newton junior Sarah Kalkhoff won the 4A girls’ discus title while CMB senior Zach Samson won his second straight 2A boys’ shot put championship. Lynnville-Sully senior Meliek Meyer claimed the gold for the 1A 100 meters then anchored the Hawks to a state title in the 4x100 with senior Bailee Samson, sophomore Sage Ehresman and senior Caden Doll.

By the time 2015 rolled around, Troy Hyde had come aboard the NDN sports staff and we’ve been recording the feats for Jasper County athletes at the state track meet ever since.

One of the parallels I have between my Kansas days and Iowa days developed at that state meet. I have covered two back-to-back girls’ discus champions and both were coached by their fathers. Newton’s Kalkhoff defended her 4A state discus title under the tutelage of Dave Kalkhoff. In Kansas it was Iola High’s Molly Lonergan in Class 4A with throws coach Pat Lonergan.

Newton senior Deonne Harris was the 4A boys’ 110-meter high hurdle champion in 2015. PCM senior Rachel Peter was the 2A 1,500 champion.

Through the six state meets I’ve covered here Jasper County, area athletes have collected state medals and competed on the biggest high school track stage in Iowa.

The past two years, I covered Lynnville-Sully’s Tyson Vander Linden winning back-to-back state championships in the 1A 400 hurdles. He won the 1A 400 dash in 2019. Vander Linden anchored the Hawks to back-to-back state titles in the sprint medley relay in 1A — Sage Zylstra, Corey McCoy and Nate Stock in 2018 and Gage Vander Leest, Ethan Wyma and Kinnick McFarland in 2019.

In Kansas, I also had state champions in the girls’ and boys’ hurdles, the triple jump, long jump, pole vault, javelin and almost every race and relay race (4x100, 4x400, 4x800).

Missing the state track meet is a shame just because no matter what place an athlete takes, it’s a great pleasure to watch them give their all.

Contact Jocelyn Sheets at

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