PROVO — When Nathan Kaufusi crossed the finish line in the 6A boys 4 x 400 meter relay at last Saturday’s state track and field meet, he roared in delight.
The Syracuse senior ran the anchor leg of the relay in a fast enough time for the Titans to win the race and therefore clinch the 6A boys track and field state championship.
So obviously, he was excited for that. He knew the stakes, and it wrapped up a fantastic day for him as it gave him four first-place medals after he had earlier won the 100 meters, the 200 and the 400.
But there’s a whole lot more that was going on for him.
When he was at West Point Junior High, his grandmother was the one who initially encouraged him to go out for the track team.
She has since passed away, but Kaufusi was running with her in mind.
“All four golds, that meant a lot, but that last one, that really meant something to be able to do it with the relay, the guys that I love, doing it for my grandma. I miss her a lot, and I know she’s looking down at me somewhere,” Kaufusi said.
Kaufusi was dead tired at the state meet, so tired in fact that he briefly fell asleep in the stands until his teammates woke him up.
It was all worth it.
IT ALMOST WASN’T A SYRACUSE STATE TITLE
Saturday’s state championship for Syracuse High was its first in boys track and field in the school’s (brief) history.
It almost wasn’t, though.
During the 4 x 400, a couple of relay teams had trouble with their handoffs — Syracuse included — and there was enough chaos during the race to prompt race officials to raise up yellow flags after handoffs.
When officials raise up white flags, it means everything happened cleanly and there was nothing that could’ve prompted further review.
The yellow flags meant that, even though the Titans won the race and the state championship, they had to wait until after the officials reviewed what happened for it to be official.
There was serious concern during that several-minute review that maybe one of the Titans’ runners had done something illegal in the race (cutting off another runner for example) that could prompt a disqualification.
That would’ve meant the ultimate heartbreak. The runners were nervous. Coaches were nervous. Fans were nervous.
In the end, race officials disqualified the Herriman team and Syracuse won the state title by winning the 4 x 400.
But it could’ve potentially been much different.
COMPETING AGAINST THE STATE’S BEST
Several track and field head coaches at the state meet expressed frustration with what they called “watered-down” competition, as has become an annual tradition.
It stems from the UHSAA having six classifications in high school sports, which has drawn criticism for being too many.
One of the many suggestions for “fixing” the six classifications involves moving the state track meet away from its current six-class setup and into a “one-class” setup.
That would feature the top 27 marks in each event regardless of classification, conduct three heats or trials in each event and then have the finals.
The pros of something like that: the competition is intense and the best in the state compete against the best in the state.
The cons: the smaller schools get left out and don’t get to experience the big stage of BYU’s track and field complex, which is a very sparkling facility and a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many kids.
Many of the running times and field event marks attained by smaller-school athletes wouldn’t come close to being a top-27 time in the state.
It would mean the small schools’ representation would be limited to once-in-a-generation kids.
But there are exceptions.
St. Joseph High senior Virginia Tomon threw a mark of 117-05.50 in the discus, which won the 2A state title by nearly 16 feet this year.
If she was competing against everybody, her mark of 117-05.50 would’ve been good for sixth place overall. As it was, her mark would’ve won the state title in 1A, 3A and 6A to go with 2A.
As recently as last year, there were small-school athletes in the state that would’ve won an overall state meet in their events.
Last year, Dallin Draper of Delta High (3A) ran the top boys’ 100-meter time at the state meet in 10.53 seconds.
The top girls 100 time of 11.69 seconds was ran by Jaslyn Gardner (Enterprise High, 2A), a time that would’ve won an overall state meet by more than half a second.
And last year’s best time in the girls 1600 at the state meet came from Sadie Sargent of North Summit High (2A), who clocked a 4:55.02 that would’ve beat the next-closest competitor (Carlee Hansen from Woods Cross) by more than two-and-a-half seconds if they had competed in the same race.