No mistaking Jasper’s dash to podiumJune 3, 2017
By WYATT L. STAYNER
BLOOMINGTON — They’re not imposters, they promise. This is actually the Jasper 3,200-meter boys relay team.
After placing seventh in Friday’s state meet at the Robert C. Haugh Track and Field Complex at Indiana University, the relay quartet of Corbin Kaiser, Cale Kilian, Will Smith and Tristan Backer encountered their first slow-down of the night. Smith and Kaiser were missing their bibs, or in this case their identification to prove that, yes, they were in fact part of the Wildcat relay team that medaled and got to stand on a podium for an awards ceremony. That required Smith and Kaiser to scurry across the track complex to grab their bibs from the Cats’ tent not long after they had finished the 3,200 in 7:49.93 and bested their personal record by about four seconds.
“Tight security,” Kaiser joked.
In some ways, it’s fitting the relay team would be asked for identification, because it has been a really long time, if ever, that the word “Jasper” has found its way onto the podium at the state finals for an all-state finish. Coach Kevin Schipp, who’s been with the team as an assistant or a head coach for about 15 years, said it hasn’t happened during his stead.
“It’s huge,” Schipp said of the quartet’s accomplishment. “When you hit a certain level and you realize you can do this and what it takes to get there, it motivates you to do better and better. I think these guys, what they did this year, a lot of what they did, is they’ve realized that the only thing that really limits them is their mind. We’ve talked about that. People in every aspect of life limit themselves mentally and don’t believe they can do something they truly are capable of and they never realize it. They realized a little bit more today and the last couple weeks. Hopefully that breeds confidence for the other kids.”
Jasper didn’t lock down any other medals, but in one of the largest groups Schipp has ever taken to state, Sam DeWitt finished 24th in the 110 hurdles and the 1,600 relay team landed 18th place. Forest Park senior Zach Cline grabbed 22nd place in discus and fellow Ranger Andrew Schuler earned 24th in shot put.
The 3,200 team was seeded fourth coming into the race, which is also the highest seed a Jasper relay team has had in Schipp’s tenure. In regional, the quartet blazed to a school and regional record time of 7:53.75, dropping about 30 seconds from its first-place sectional time. They earned another four-second dip Friday, because “we had people to chase,” Kaiser said. “We just had people pushing us.”
“It’s a relief that we can do as well as we did,” he continued. “It just sets the bar high for the next people to come in.”
While the 3,200 team sported medals around their necks and received kudos from competitors, coaches and event staff, other local athletes encountered a tougher mixture of emotions. DeWitt finished second-to-last in his 110 hurdles heat and was mostly driven by the fact that “I just didn’t want to get last in my heat,” he said. DeWitt didn’t automatically qualify for state and instead received a callback, which Schipp relayed to the junior through a text right before DeWitt sang in the school choir at Jasper’s graduation ceremony last weekend.
“I was bummed the rest of the night because that’s all I wanted to do was make it here,” DeWitt said of finishing just below the cut at fourth in regional. “And then I was waiting in the gym because I’m in choir and I was singing in graduation and got the text from coach, and it was like, ‘Oh, wow.’ Because everyone was saying, ‘Oh, you probably won’t make it because those never happen,’ but when it happened it was like, ‘That’s awesome. That’s crazy.’”
Fellow Wildcat Noah Mehringer, who ran with 1,600 relay teammates Elliot Prange, Chris Backer and Reece Milligan, had to wait until the final race about five hours after the meet’s start time. That extended delay creates quite a nervous purgatory, even though Mehringer explained he was less anxious than his first appearance at state last season.
“There’s no other feeling like the start of a state track race,” Mehringer said, grinning. “I do cross country and that’s kind of bad, but this is just 10 times worse as far as nerves. Knowing just how fast you’re going and how much pain you’re about to be in compared to early races in the season, and also all the people watching and all the expectations.”
For the Rangers, both performances fell below expectations, Schuler and Cline said, but there were still silver linings. Cline, a senior, explained it was just one of those days where he didn’t have it. Yet, he also got one last chance to experience a state meet.
“The atmosphere is awesome,” Cline said after a toss of 145 feet, 11 inches. “It’s just cool to know that you’re one of the best in the state. It’s an honor to be here and compete.”
Schuler, while disappointed in his 41-11⁄2 throw, mentioned he actually found the experience to be a motivating one because he realized he’s not that far from making an impression at state.
“It’s a little bit intimidating, but they are not beyond that far of a reach,” Schuler said. “Yesterday, I was practicing with the second guy. He was sailing them over mine, but he didn’t seem that much better than me.”
Besides, merely making the state finals is an idea Schuler and coach Aaron Sickbert didn’t lend much credence to before the season — so much so that Schuler bet Sickbert he could shave Sickbert’s head if he made state. Sure enough, Sickbert followed through.
“It’s just something he kind of randomly mentioned at the beginning of the season, and I said, ‘Sure, of course,’” Sickbert said. “Even going into regional, I thought I was completely safe. Well, not completely safe. He had a decent shot at making it to state. But even then, that bet wasn’t in my mind, and then he won and I still didn’t even put 2 and 2 together. And then he mentioned something and it hit me like, ‘Whoa, it’s real now.’”
Cline and Schuler called the trip to Bloomington a bonding experience, with the trio talking motorcycles on the drive north. Sickbert won’t return as head coach next season so he can help his wife with her family business, the St. Anthony Mill. He will still assist with the throwers, but acknowledged saying goodbye is tough.
“I think what I’ll miss most is just seeing the improvement and seeing the kids get excited about improving,” Sickbert said. “Seeing that look of excitement that they get when they throw farther or they run faster, they get a personal record. It’s just a great feeling.”
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