Indoor track and field might be the most under-the-radar high school sport in Ohio. The indoor season gives multi-sport student-athletes an opportunity to compete against some of the best athletes from throughout the state. Competitions are few and far between and practice time is limited, but the advantages are evident.
While not officially sanctioned by the OHSAA, indoor is recognized as a varsity sport by some schools and a club sport at most schools. The Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches hosts a championship meet each year.
“The greatest benefit for student-athletes from the indoor season is that it keeps them active during the winter months when it is hardest to be motivated to stay in shape,” Summit Country Day coach Kurtis Smith said. “It provides your outdoor track athletes with an outlet to stay focused and fine-tune their skills heading into the outdoor season. Keeping them active during this time of the year in our area is so important.”
The Silver Knights recognize indoor as a varsity sport and boast a 35-student roster. Summit Country Day’s Mason Moore and John Murdock rank one-two in in the 1,600 meters. Murdock has the top 3,200 meter time while Moore ranks seventh. St. Xavier’s Michael Vitucci has the state’s top 1,600 meter time. Mason’s Nick Grismer and Tommy Stewart, Lakota East’s Horter, and Sycamore’s Ray Berling have also impressed in the long distance events.
Lakota West’s Mykel Chambers has posted the area’s fastest sprint times. Withrow’s Kymari Gates, Aaron Shannon and Rashaun O’Neal, Mason’s Reese Pontius, Amit Maity, and Jake Belcastro, and Sycamore’s Jeremiah Hunter also boast top sprint times, while Princeton’s Brandon Mullins, Sycamore’s Adam Lucken, and Lakota East’s Dustin Horter lead the middle distance events. Withrow, Mason, and Sycamore have the area’s top relay teams.
Northwest’s Myles Pringle and Mason’s Vince Major are among the state’s top high jumpers. The Knights also have a top long jumper in Malik Beverly. Mason’s Pontius also excels in the long jump and triple jump. Mason’s Billy Rook, Glen Este’s Jacob Hamilton, and Sycamore’s Ben Pendergast rank among the top pole vaulters.
Just the opportunity to compete in these events gives outdoor track and field athletes an early edge. While most of the aforementioned competitors do not have an official indoor team at their school, they are still able to train for and compete against statewide competition.
“To stay truly competitive, you have to compete, and that comes from lining up next to other kids and racing. I think that makes a big, dramatic difference,” said Lakota West coach Larry Cox. “There are checks and balances. You don’t want them burned out for spring track, but you want them to keep their eyes on the prize for spring. Indoor serves as a launching pad for the spring season.”
On the girls side, Withrow’s Destiny Pennington, Niyah Carpenter, Olivia James, Mercedes Smith, and Ayanna O’Neal rank among the state’s top sprinters, as does Lakota East’s Kaylyn Heath. Not surprisingly, Withrow has posted the state’s top times in the 4×200 and 4×400 relays. Turpin’s Olivia Connaughton and Sycamore’s Rosie Menyhert lead the distance runners. Withrow’s O’Neal and Lakota West’s Sydney Hill have posted top times in the 60-meter hurdles. Walnut Hills’s Tai’lynn Jones is one of the state’s best in the long jump and triple jump.
While there are many challenges to participate in indoor, such as additional fees and travel expenses, there are rewards for those athletes who want to compete at the next level.
“Indoor can provide an athlete another chance to be seen by colleges and earn a scholarship,” said Princeton coach James Stallings. “For the students that do indoor track and are serious about college track, this is ideal. These athletes will have an indoor season once they go to college as well.”
Athletes who play other sports in the fall and spring can improve their athleticism by competing in indoor in the winter. Summit Country Day has baseball, softball, and lacrosse players competing in indoor.
Cox, who is also the football coach at Lakota West, sees firsthand how his athletes benefit:
“The speed from track helps the football players, and the toughness and competitiveness from football carries over into track.”
The OATCCC indoor state championships take place March 7 at the University of Akron.