Friday, July 29, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Local runners making strides

By RAY BENTON Leader sports editor

A handful of local, soon-to-be sophomores have turned in outstanding summer seasons in boys track and field. Cabot hurdler Tyler George won the 400-meter hurdles in a four-state district AAU meet, as well as the USATF Black Squirrel Regionals in Missouri.

That qualified him for the USATF Junior Olympic nationals this week in Sacramento, Calif. He did not place at nationals, but set a personal record with a time of 1:04.11.

His USATF coach, Jason Alley, said George’s times were still remarkable since he never ran the 400-meter hurdles until the summer season began.

“High school only has 300-meter hurdles. They moved him up as a freshman and he placed in conference,” said Alley. “To only have started running the 400 a couple months ago, and also dealing with higher hurdles than they run in high school, it was pretty incredible what he was able to accomplish.”

Sylvan Hills did not move its freshman phenom up to compete with the high schoolers last year, but Nicolas Porter is set to make a major impact as a sophomore sprinter next high school season. Porter and summer teammate Kennedy Lightner have been tearing up the 16-under division in the sprints, and teamed up with Eric Franklin and Andre Bradley to break the AAU state record in the 4x100-meter relay.

Porter finished second to Lightner in the 100-meter dash in the AAU state meet in Hot Springs. Lightner won with a time of 11.09 and Porter finished in 11.14.

They finished one and two in the 200-meter dash as well, but Porter turned the tables in the 200 in the four-state regional in Lawrence, Kan.

Porter ran a 22.21 to beat Lightner’s 22.25 in the regionals. In the 100-meter dash, Porter improved his time dramatically to an 11.04, but Lightner ran a blistering 10.99 to maintain first place.

Arkansas Baptist College track coach Cedric Vaughn works with both sprinters on an individual basis, and expects huge things from both.

“I think by their junior seasons, they’re going to break some state high school records,” said Vaughn. “Porter could break Basil Shabazz’s record in the 200, and it’s been standing for more than 20 years.”

Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter School’s Robert Whitfield just finished his sophomore season, and embarks on his junior year with championships in mind.

Whitfield didn’t win any championships as a sophomore, always finishing second to senior teammate and four-time Class 1A state champion Jordan McNair. But Whitfield eclipsed McNair’s best high school time over the summer.

In the AAU regionals in Kansas, Whitfield, 17-years old, ran the 100-meter dash in 10.96 to finish second in the 18-under division, just .02 seconds behind the winner.

McNair did not eclipse the 11-second mark until his senior season. JLCS coach Kelvin Parker isn’t surprised with Whitmore’s performance this summer.

“I said he was going to end up being faster than Jordan,” Parker said. “Everybody wants to run sprints, but everybody ain’t fast. Robert is fast.”