Young talent makes Braves title contenders
The first-place plaque is tucked under Jim Mitchell’s left arm like a football as the Bonner Springs track coach stands in the press box at David Jaynes Stadium.
It’s Thursday night, and his boys squad has just finished dominating its home meet. Mitchell’s face displays a smile typically reserved for a proud father.
Mitchell isn’t surprised that his squad won the meet, although winning and losing isn’t of much consequence to Mitchell at this point in the season. Improvement is what he’s looking for — faster times, farther distances and higher heights — and on this night he knows he has seen it.
Senior standouts Jonathan and Jeremy Walker went 1-2 in the 110-meter hurdles and the long jump like they were supposed to, and they also helped the 400-meter relay team take first place.
Sophomore Cameron Callahan and senior Garron Wayne went 2-3 in the 100, junior Jake Barren won the discus and took second in the shot put. Junior Brooks Ballou won the 1,600 in a photo finish and then dominated the 3,200.
Deeper down the roster, however, is the real source of Mitchell’s excitement.
While most of the state focuses on the star power of the Braves’ upperclassmen, Mitchell knows the new class at BSHS will have to deliver in order for Bonner Springs to bring home a state championship after finishing second at the Class 5A state meet in 2008. The talent, he believes, is there to make it happen.
“I think we’ve got a shot,” Mitchell said. “If we can get these guys to produce third-, fourth-, fifth-place finishes, and get us two or three points here and there, I think we’ve got a shot.”
Include Callahan in that younger talent pool, but also make note of freshmen Dedric Johnson, J.J. Jackson and Michael Waite and sophomore Nick Carver, which make an intriguing lineup in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter relays, as well as junior Clayton Rhodes, who has run on some of the relay teams this year and is emerging as a potential state qualifier in the 300 hurdles. There are others, too.
Mitchell pauses midsentence and nods out the window of the press box toward the infield below.
“There they are,” he said of the 1,600-meter relay team. “They’re out there cooling down as a group, doing what they’re supposed to. They’re learning right off the bat. They don’t have bad habits.”
For Mitchell, this is what makes coaching exciting. Just like he saw the potential in Maurice Greene when he coached the future Olympic champion at Schlagle, he recognized it when the Walker twins transferred to BSHS. In that same manner, an alarm went off in Mitchell’s head when these new runners came along.
Mitchell’s son is a freshman at BSHS, so he said he knew that program’s talent pool would be replenished this year.
“I know these kids, and I know it’s an athletic group,” Mitchell said.
With that new talent comes possibilities, and that makes Mitchell’s heart race and his brain tick. He’s excited every time a race begins. He spends more time pondering times and distances and how they might add up to another state trophy — possibly one for first place this year.
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