It was 1997, and I was part of Orchard’s 4x800 team.
It was 24 years ago, but I still remember the butterflies I felt as my spikes hit the track at Johnny Carson field at the Norfolk Classic. That first step felt like crossing the finish line first. Of course, we didn’t — my team ended up second to last that day. But just being considered among the best in the area felt like we had won a gold medal.
It was a few years later when I was the assistant sports editor at the Norfolk Daily News that Gary Schuurmans asked me to share my story with his team at Norfolk High. (Gary — the “that” was for you because you always told me I used “that” too much when I wrote!)
Gary wanted his athletes to know how much the Classic meant to those of us from small towns. Those like me.
Gary got it. He understood. And that’s why he started the Norfolk Classic. He wanted a mini-state meet. A place for athletes of all classes to compete on a level playing field.
That’s why I’m heartbroken for Sutton Pohlman, Brennan Wragge and Connor McCarthy. These three Stanton athletes should have qualified for the Norfolk Classic; however, a submission error has cost them the opportunity to experience the elite meet this year.
For Sutton and Brennan, COVID-19 robbed them of the opportunity last year as juniors. This year, as a seniors, they should be there. They would be there, if not for the error.
For Sutton, his times in the 100 and 400 are Classic worthy. For Brennan and Connor, their time in the 4x100 with Sutton and Mitchell Hupp is also Classic worthy. Mitchell was added to the Classic late Monday night due to a scratch in the 200. He has the second-best time in the area — and almost missed his chance to shine.
You see, the Norfolk Classic doesn’t run heats. The top eight compete, and it’s final. That’s why sprinters can’t simply slide into a race. There’s literally no room.
On one hand, these boys could still make the Classic if another athlete is injured and scratches. But no one wants that. The bottom line is that these three should have qualified due to their times being among the best. Again, if not for a submission error, they would be on the list right now.
Is this a life lesson for these young men to be left at home? It absolutely is. But it can also be a life lesson if they compete. Sometimes changes are made to ensure good kids get their opportunity to shine when they deserve it. Maybe this is the year there are two heats — five runners in one and four runners in the other. It’s not ideal, but neither was canceling the entire track season or closing school last year due to the pandemic.
Five years from now will any of these athletes even remember the Norfolk Classic? Twenty-four years after I competed, I still remember how I felt. Maybe these boys will be men who remember the time they were given a once-in-a-lifetime chance — a chance to compete in the Norfolk Classic despite a submission mistake that nearly cost them qualification.
I hope “nearly” is the word they use in the future. I hope they compete Thursday.
I hope these Stanton athletes are given a chance. I hope they #FreeTheMustangs.
Carrie Pitzer is the publisher of the Stanton Register. She also is publisher for the Antelope County News and Knox County News.