By WARREN DILLAWAY - email@example.com
HARPERSFIELD TOWNSHIP —
A long line of people wearing red T-shirts, spelling out the name, Jonathan, were just the motivation needed to propel a local product into the finals of a major national track and field competition.
Jonathan Gears, a graduate of Pymatuning Valley High School, ran a strategic race late Friday afternoon sprinting to a spot in the 3,000-meter finals at the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Indoor Track and Field Championships, to be held today at Spire Institute.
“That’s my mom’s whole side of the family,” Gears said while recovering from running the fastest 3,000 meters of his life, cutting seven seconds off his best time to run an 8:32.20. He had to finish in the top four or be in the next-four-fastest times in the two heats but made sure of his automatic spot with a swift kick to the finish line.
“They don’t get to see a lot of my meets so they all came up,” Gears said.
The former Laker stayed in the upper middle part of the pack till things began to spread out about half way through the race. Gears broke to the front at one point and then made sure he was in the top eight until runners began their kicks with two laps to go.
Floyd Stroud, head coach University of the Cumberlands, said he expects Gears to continue to improve after transferring in this year.
Gears said the preliminary pace was fast because there were so many athletes vying for the final 12 spots that qualify to run today at 2:20 p.m.
“I had to run pretty hard,” he said.
More than 950 athletes from dozens of schools qualified for competition this weekend. Competition will close today.
Field-event competition begins this morning at 10, with the women’s triple jump and women’s shot put. Championship ceremonies start at noon, followed by running finals that begin at 12:25 p.m. and end around 4:30 p.m.
The NAIA schools are based throughout the United States, can offer scholarships and are mostly private schools, meet director Chris Stancliff said.
“People don’t realize how competitive this meet is,” said Claude Holland, who was the Cleveland Heights head track coach for many years where he won a Division I Ohio High School Athletic Association state championship.
One performance that illustrated the level of competition was a 7-1 3/4 leap in the high jump by Mike Edwards of Embry Riddle University.