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Cats leave comfort zone for Penn Relays

April 16, 2004|by ANDREW MASON

andrewm@herald-mail.com

The high school entry lists for the boys and girls 400- and 1,600-meter relays at next week's 110th annual Penn Relays in Philadelphia go on and on and on.

"Just about anyone can get into those races. They pretty much accept everybody," Chambersburg coach Chris Monheim said. "They have some pretty soft standards."

But with several of the world's top track & field athletes, from the preps to the pros, competing and thousands of fans cheering, there's nothing soft about the Penn Relays.

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That's why Williamsport is leaving its Washington County comfort zone for the sights and sounds of the big-city carnival.

"We're trying to elevate our program. We just want to show the kids there's more to life than Washington County week in and week out," Williamsport assistant coach Mike Taylor said. "We treat these kids like our own kids, and when you have kids, you want to treat them to the best things in life. We're spoiling them a little bit, but they deserve it. They work their butts off."

Wildcats Laura Scuffins, Michelle Mummert, Kristin Berry and Jess Clingan are set for the girls 1,600 relay on Thursday, while Rhet Troxell, Aaron Buchman, Devin Hewitt and either Matt Oliver or Curtis Babbie will compete in the boys 3,200 relay Thursday and Troxell, Buchman, Hewitt and Seth Shrader will run in the 1,600 relay two days later.

Washington County hasn't sent a relay team to the Penn Relays since Smithsburg ran the girls 1,600 relay in 1993. Ryan Martin competed in the boys discus as a senior at Williamsport last year.

"The Smithsburg girls 4x4 was the first public secondary school from Washington County to ever be represented at the Penn Relays," said Mike Spinnler, who was an assistant coach at Smithsburg in 1993. "Williamsport is really making a step forward. If you meet those minimum standards, you get to run against the best of America and squads from outside the country."

The standards for the prep 3,200 relays, however, are much stiffer than those for the 1,600 and 400 relays. The Williamsport boys, the defending outdoor and indoor state champs in the 3,200 relay, just made the cut for the event, which has much smaller fields than the shorter relays.

"They told me they got 178 applications from nine countries and 22 states and only accepted 35 of them," Taylor said. "We have a shot of going top six. The big thing is we want to break 8 minutes and make the Race of America finals Saturday."

Other area schools sending 1,600 and/or 400 relay teams include: Chambersburg, James Buchanan, Mercersburg Academy, Middletown, Thomas Johnson and St. John's at Prospect Hall.

It's a wonder more area schools don't make the trip.

"From the grand scheme of things in geography, it's a stone's throw away. And it's the greatest relays meet on the planet," Spinnler said. "The experience is priceless. They've been running that same lap since the 1890s. Surfaces have changed over the years, but all the great athletes from our sport who have ever lived have run on that oval.

"It can really open your eyes. They'll run in front of at least 40,000 people. What it does is give the kids a much better perspective of what the sport is really like, not to downgrade what you see around here with a couple hundred parents watching."

Monheim said the experience is more important than the results.

"The main reason we go is to give them an experience to compete in the biggest meet in the United States," he said. "A lot of the teams are going to be way better than what we are capable of doing, but it will help get us ready for the big meets at the end of the season. At the Penn Relays, you're forced to run faster than you have all season."

Chambersburg senior Kylee Schuler - last year's Herald-Mail All-Area Girls Track & Field Athlete of the Year - and Middletown senior Boris Roslov - a three-time Maryland state champ - will represent the area individually. Schuler will compete in the 3,000 on Thursday, while Roslov is set for the boys high jump on Friday.

Last year, Schuler placed sixth in the Penn Relays 3,000, before clocking a Tri-State record 10:44.71 in the 3,200 weeks later.

"This meet last year was the big turning point in her running career," Monheim said. "I think she's ready to run another good one."

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