Vineyarders figured in two of the most dramatic finishes of the day on Saturday in the All-State Outdoor Track and Field Championships, sponsored by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) at Westfield State University in Westfield.
Mackenzie Condon came from way back to finish second to Meg Hughes of Old Rochester Regional in the 400-meter low hurdles, and Nate Packer was a handspan away from qualifying for the New England Championships in the shot put. The top six finishes in each event go to the New Englands, held next Saturday, beginning at 10 am at Thornton Academy in Saco, Maine.
In the most exciting minute of the day, Condon chased down Hughes, who abandoned traditional race strategy and bolted from the starting line to open a 30-yard lead on the field. Condon likewise threw caution to the winds and sprinted after Hughes, erasing her lead to finish one stride (62.57 seconds) behind Hughes (61.79) at the finish line. Condon set a new personal record in that race.
“Mackenzie realized right away that she had to go. [Hughes] came out of the blocks in a dead sprint,” Martha’s Vineyard Regional Regional High School (MVRHS) Coach Joe Schroeder said after the event.
MVRHS shot putter Nate Packer looked good to go to the New England Championships next week by finishing sixth in the shot with a 48-foot, 10-inch toss. Packer, however, was tied by Jackson Brigham of Swampscott, leading race officials to look to the second-best throw from each to determine the winner. Brigham had thrown eight inches longer than Packer in that throw, and was selected as sixth-place finisher and New England qualifier. After Packer and Schroeder verified the process, the consistently unflappable senior was calm. “I came in as a 10-seed, so I’ll take seventh,” he said. Packer still has a chance at the New Englands if one of the other top six finishers declines to participate.
Condon qualified for the New Englands on Saturday with her second-place 400-meter hurdles finish. Earlier in the week, Condon had a school record performance in winning the all-state pentathlon. The New England Championships do not offer the pentathlon event. On Saturday, she also finished seventh in the 100-meter hurdles with a time of 15:05, well below her 15:31 qualifying time. Condon has also qualified for the national track event in the heptathlon, and will journey to North Carolina A&T later this month to compete.
Vineyarder junior Dash Christy finished 22nd in the state in the 110 hurdles after tweaking a leg muscle in the preliminaries. After a fast start, Christy limped to the finish line in 15.96, just a half-second more than his qualifying time.
One of the principal attractions of track is a pervasive sense of fellowship and spontaneity among athletes and fans. There is zero jeering, heckling, or offensive behavior. That was apparent under the sunny, warmish skies in Westfield on Saturday. I watched a runner go out of her way to congratulate a wheelchair athlete who had completed just prior to her event. And the irrepressible senior, Aiden Felty of Innovation Academy, has created an enthusiastic fan base among fans and competitors to watch his Herculean discus and shot put efforts.
Felty is top 10 nationally in the events, and rhythmic clapping and chanting from fans and competitors accompany his every toss. He will compete in nationals again in his final high school year before heading to Duke University. He won both events by multiple feet on Saturday, in events that generally measure winning in quarter-inches.
Then there was the fan-favorite coaching staff at Stoughton High School, who captivated the state indoors meet in Boston last winter by bursting into joyful tears and cheers after a team victory.
Stoughton High junior David Peters set them off on Saturday, winning the 110-meter race in 13.99 seconds, his first step into the hallowed sub-14-second turf. Coaches Lauren Pinchieri and Jennifer Ceolinski reprised their winter joy, with the cheers and without the tears. An accommodating MIAA official even rewound Peters’ winning time on the electronic scoreboard so Pinchieri could pose Peters for a photo with his winning time.
MIAA officials’ surly behavior on display at meet
While MIAA officials generally also behave in this way, several officials on Saturday exhibited relentless churlish behavior toward fans and athletes, screaming in full voice and on the PA system for athletes, coaches, and non-officials to clear the infield, which the track encircles, at one point decreeing that a relay event would not be called to begin until the infield was cleared.
For context, the “infield” at Westfield State is composed of the entire football field and sidelines. Attendees were banished at one point to the adjoining baseball field for 20 to 30 minutes, until the PA intoned that that space was also off-limits. There is no other accessible space at the venue large enough to hold the crowd of athletes and coaches.
Based on decades of interaction with MIAA officials, on and off the field, the jarring notes that sounded on Saturday were a head-scratcher. The Times called MIAA headquarters on Monday with a “what-was-up” question.
“Yes, there was some confusion about the use of the infield,” Keith McDermott, assistant director of the MIAA, who was at the meet, said in a return phone call. “But there are different ways to communicate with people to get them to do what you want,” he said, noting that he spoke with several officials on the infield about their communications. “If you noticed, there were no further announcements of that sort.”