By WARREN DILLAWAY - firstname.lastname@example.org
HARPERSFIELD TOWNSHIP —
What a difference a year makes could be the motto for Jonathan Gears, who went from a school with no indoor track program to a National Intercollegiate Athletic Association All-American in 12 months.
Gears, a Pymatuning Valley High School graduate and a sophomore at the University of the Cumberlands, took another five seconds off his best time Saturday afternoon to finish eighth in the 3,000-meter run at Spire Institute. Although he is a sophomore in school and cross country eligibility, he is only a freshman as far as track eligibility.
Gears bear hugged Tony Noxon, his cross country coach at Pymatuning Valley for several years, before posing for a picture with his family dressed in red T-shirts spelling out his name.
“It was rough. It was pretty quick,” he said of the pace set by 12 runners seeking a shot at winning the race of becoming an All American. There definitely was no pacing. It was just keep it up.”
The pack of 12 stayed together for a good portion of the race. The first major move came with about a lap and three quarters to go.
Cumberlands track and field Coach Floyd Stroud was all smiles after the race.
“Every race he runs, he drops his time,” he said.
Stroud said the race was a blistering pace and when several runners began to move out, he checked his watch and realized Gears was running faster than goal pace. He said the up-and-down pace of the race is hard for any runner to maintain.
“He just gutted it out for that last place (eighth and final All-American),” he said.
The 8:27 is probably equivalent to a sub-nine minute two mile outdoors, Stroud said.
Robert Gears, Jon’s father, credited the coaching staff at PV and Cumberlands for bringing his son to this place this early in his career.
“God blessed him (Jon) with a lot of talent,” Robert Gears said.
The ironic connection to Spire Institute was not lost on Gears mother, Melissa.
“Tony brought him up here (Spire Institute) and it sort of spearheaded his love of track,” she said.
Four weeks of collegiate track at Spire Institute came to an end late Saturday afternoon, but high school track fans can continue to enjoy their sport Friday evening from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. with a regional competition.
Stanley Kasserman, a track official from Painesville, has worked area meets for decades and is happy Spire Institute is hosting so many meets.
“This is a fantastic facility (and) I don’t have to travel as far (to officiate indoor meets),” he said.
Kasserman, who was working the pole-vault competition Saturday, said the Spire facility is so spacious it leaves plenty of room for the competitors and officials.
“They (the vaulters) have room to run up and down and we’re (the officials) not in anybody’s way,” he said.
The facility has also made a difference for local high school teams, according to Edgewood girls coach Beth Simpson. She was a volunteer for the meet and helped run the shot put event.
“I just volunteer,” she said. “It’s a good view of the competition.”
She said the facility has helped the indoor program because facility use is a challenge at the school.
“We are in the halls and kids get shin splints,” Simpson said.
She said going out to Spire Institute once or twice a week helps get her athletes ready for the season.
“They feel so much more prepared for the season,” Simpson said.