As we all wait for the final dregs of dirty, crusty snow to melt away and for the first blooms on the brave early tulips to pop free of their sheltering stems, let's pause and take a quick look around at what the productive indoor track season has yielded for area athletes this stalled spring.
Let's first talk to excited Homestead boys coach and former state long jump champion Dan Benson about Bradley Tech's Marcus Jenkins. The same Marcus Jenkins who got close enough to wave 'hello' to Wisconsin's Holy Grail of track records, Larry Franklin's 25 foot-3/4 inch long jump effort at the 1965 state meet.
Jenkins teased the audience at the TFA Indoor meet in Whitewater with one spectacular leap, a 24-10 3/4 effort that left the public address announcer gasping with excitement.
"I had my back turned when it happened," a chagrined Benson said. "I was watching a bunch of other things. I heard the 'wooo' of excitement, turned to look around and there he was putting his sweats back on getting ready for other things."
Benson spoke a few years ago to me for the the Wisconsin Track and Field Yearbook about why it's taken so long for this Gibraltar-ish mark to go down. He noted that wind conditions at La Crosse (where the state meet is held) are not always the best for records but that every once in awhile they do shift. He said you also need someone of exceptional talent, and he thinks the state has found it in Jenkins.
"The scary thing about that jump of his, was that he missed the board," Benson said. "If he had it hit perfectly, he could have added six or eight inches to it (which would have put him past Franklin). And what's nice about the facility there is that there is a genuine wood (take-off) board as opposed to the painted rubber that's most often used. There's something to be said for that. With the wood, you sometimes get a really good pop, a good lift."
Benson noted that Jenkins' subsequent 6-7 high jump added credibility and heft to his reputation and makes him even more of a threat to the long jump mark.
"First of all, he's got legitimate sprinter's speed to go along with incredible spring," Benson said. "Put that together and you have a heck of a jumper. I had a chance to talk to him for about 10 seconds. He's very self-confident and has no doubts about what he's doing."
Whick left no doubts about what Benson was going to do when he got home later that evening.
"We have our Jumpfest (invite) in May," he said. "I'm going to check our files and make sure that he's invited and if he's not, maybe I'll promise him an appearance fee or something like that (laughs)."
Other highlights of the spring weren't quite as dramatic, but were just as interesting.
One predominant theme that arose is that youth shall be served. Nowhere was this more apparent than at the Lois Wolf Invite at Whitefish Bay last month, when Brookfield Central freshman Chidera Obasih raced past multi-time Division 2 state champion and recordholder Kaya Senaya of Brown Deer in the 55-meter dash.
"You've just got to love her. Her spirit is so great," said Lancer senior teammate Katie McCoimack after Obasih later led the Lancers to the Greater Metro Conference Indoor.
Indeed veteran coach Lorie Lewis, who's more used to building around strong distance groups (which she also possesses this spring), was stunned at the impact of the tall, explosive long-striding sprinter she inherited..
"We knew she was good, but we really didn't know fully what we had," Lewis said.
One can only imagine what Obaish will do outdoors, where the straightaways are longer and the curves gentler.
As for Senaya, who recently signed a letter of intent with Wisconsin, she just said having a target on her back like that will only make her work harder. Let's hope the pair can find their way together to an outdoor meet yet this spring. Unfortunately for fans, that will not include the state series, as Central is in Division I while Brown Deer is Division 2.
Meanwhile, for Senaya's five-time state champion cohort at Brown Deer, Justin Austin, things could simply not be any finer. He recently achieved a life-long dream of competing in the prestigious and speed-laden Southeastern Conference by committing to Kentucky and has blistered any and all competition in this,his final prep campaign.
After leading the Falcons to a stunningly easy Woodland Conference indoor championship, he boldly proclaimed that his goal is to break the Division 2 records in both the 100 and 200 meters and for good measure, win the long jump too. Still, he admits to feeling no pressure.
"Not at all," he said. "I'm just out there having fun."
In a more surprising development, it's become abundantly clear that the West Allis Central boys track team is far more than just the sum and total of defending state high hurdle champion and triple jumper supreme Marcus Smith. Behind Smith and fellow hurdler/jumper Jeff Meleski, the Bulldogs, with help from a surprisingly deep distance group, rampaged past the field in the Greater Metro indoor and also won the TFA Indoor title in Whitewater for good measure. Smith continued his fine triple jumping on the indoor circuit, getting into rarified air with leaps of 48 feet-plus.
One GMC coach coauld only shake his head at Smith and company and say "They're for real."
Determination was also a trait that could be found everywhere. Take the case of Whitefish Bay distance ace Megan Palmer. The sophomore closed out her cross country season last fall on a disappointing note, running tired and surprisingly flat as she and teammate Annie Talajkowski led the Blue Dukes to an intense second-place finish in the state meet.
But the winter training season was kind to Ms. Palmer as she looked fresh as a spring flower in winning both the 880 and the mile at the North Shore indoor. In both instances, she beat long-time league nemesis Kate Lydy of Germantown. Lydy, the state CC runner-up last fall, who also owns two state track silver medals, could only only watch in dismay as Palmer perched on her shoulder for most of both races, and then swept past her like she was shot out of a cannon on the last lap.
It was like a burst of warm spring air rushing past everyone's face in the Cedarburg Fieldhouse.
But Palmer knows better than to discount Lydy just on the basis of a few indoor races. Lydy trains very hard and then saves her best for just a few super fast races at the end of the year, like her sub-five minute 1,600 at state last season.
"It's early," Palmer said. "A lot can happen."
Actually, Menomonee Falls hurdler Cally Burrows is hoping for a lot less to happen this spring, as she begins her drive for a pair of state championships after a tumultuous winter. The 300 low hurdles state runner-up of a year ago had bunion surgery on both feet in January and couldn't run for a time, but she's made up for lost time, lifting weights and getting stronger. She buried both hurdle records at the GMC indoor and also helped the Indians to a sprint relay title too.
She's working hard to remain patient.
"I'm feeling excited," she said after the GMC."I was ready for this meet all week. As for the other stuff (state), I'm just trying to keep myself calm and stay steady. Just concentrate on everyday."
Veteran Germantown boys coach Todd Brawner understands that idea fully. His teams have won five straight North Shore triple crowns, but with a few injuries and a heavy turnover of talent from last season, he and the Warhawks really had to sweat this latest North Shore indoor championship won at Milwaukee Lutheran.
But he was pleased with how the Warhawks accomplished it, with a clinching win in the mile relay. The Warhawks are two-time state defending champs in the event's outdoor equivalent, the 1,600 relay.
"God bless the kids, they put it all together," Brawner said.
And now, if Mother Nature can put it all together, all this talent will get a chance to bloom even further.