An end to a tragic week for Watkins Memorial did not appear to have a storybook ending.
As senior Nic Eader made his final throw in the shot put during the Division I regional meet Friday at Pickerington North, he dropped his head, knowing it did not approach the school record nor would be long enough for him to qualify for the state meet.
Eader received a few pats on the back from teammates and a weary coaching staff. This story seemed to be done. Or was it?
A few minutes later — as the official read the final results — Eader’s ears perked up when it was announced he was fourth. Nobody had been taking copious notes. He and his coaches thought he was out. Instead, he was on to the Division I state tournament.
Rewind five days. News spread across social media of a tragedy in the school community. Beloved teacher and Watkins assistant football and track coach Charlie Watkins had suddenly died. Eader, one of Watkins’ pupils in the ring, took it especially hard.
Eader posted photos of he and Watkins on Instagram and Twitter and recited some inspirational sayings.
Eader competed in the regional discus Wednesday. He appeared to have a good chance to advance, but several competitors bettered their district throws as Eader did not. He settled for ninth.
The Watkins track teams wore headbands displaying CW. They participated in a memorial service at the school Thursday.
Eader needed to have a personal best of a couple feet in the shot put Friday to reach the school record set by Watkins in 1995. He also was a long shot to qualify for the state meet.
Eader had a solid day as others crumbled around him. As he participated in the final, the entire Watkins coaching staff made its way to the competition area. Many of Eader’s teammates and Watkins alumni did the same.
When it was announced Eader qualified, the program had a chance to smile.
“It has been crazy,” senior Connor Severino said. “I teared up when I saw he made state. I am so happy for him.”
With a bit of a weight lifted, Watkins competed well against the area’s best. Senior Ethan George qualified for the state in the 300 hurdles. The foursome of George, classmates Severino and Vinny Anderson and sophomore Chance Abbitt did the next best thing.
The 1,600 relay did not qualify for the state meet, but they broke the school record. Their time of 3:22.32 took down a mark that had stood for 25 years.
As seniors hugged parents and posed for photos, they shared memories and talked about the future. The Warriors began to heal.
“It is more than (satisfying),” Eader said. “If you would have told me I would do this last year, I would say: ‘Yeah, right.'”
It was not a storybook ending. Instead, the Warriors began to write a chapter in perseverance and strength that their coach, teacher and friend would have appreciated.