TAMPA — It was as if a bungee cord — with some umbilical elements — connected Shawn Balow to Plant High.
The gig he took at the Brooklyn YMCA last summer stretched the distance between himself and the Panthers boys track team he had coached, but never snapped. Almost daily, a Panther would e-mail Balow, pleading for him to return. Last November, he obliged.
“I missed coaching my boys,” said Balow, who had led the Panthers to six district crowns in eight seasons. “And that’s the God’s honest truth why I came back.”
Five months later, on a warm west Tampa evening, Balow’s homecoming was validated.
Despite winning only one event — Parker Diehl in the pole vault — the Panthers used their balance and some career nights to win their first county title at the Vernon F. Korhn Championships at Jefferson.
Plant’s 70.83 team total edged the host Dragons by 0.83 points. The decisive performance? There were a litany of them Tuesday, but in the last individual race, junior Bryce Weaver shattered his personal-best effort in the 3,200 meters with a time of 9:56.72 to tie for third.
“This (title) right here, for us, definitely made it all worthwhile,” said Balow, whose coaching position never was filled during his brief stint in Brooklyn. “I just love those kids and the type of relationship we have.”
The fractional victory margin delivered a Panthers sweep at Dr. Sam Horton Stadium. Plant’s girls dominated the distance events for the team title, snapping Wharton’s five-year streak of county championships.
The Panthers collected 45 of their 95 points in the three individual distance races, and won the 4x800 relay. Junior Scarlett Fox’s winning time in the 800 (2:16.85) eclipsed 1993 state champ Nicole Koritkosski’s school record (2:17).
“It’s nice to win it,” said coach Roy Harrison, who purposely limited his runners to only one individual distance race to save their legs. “But I didn’t plan on it.”
Individually, the day belonged to Steinbrenner’s Alexis Wright and Gaither’s Paul Barrett.
Wright, who confirmed her commitment to Miami after recently winning a prestigious full-tuition scholarship, won three events, setting school records in the 300 hurdles (44.89) and triple jump (39-3.5).
Barrett, a Jamaican-born three-sport star with a weighted GPA around 4.5, won both hurdles events in personal-best efforts, and matched his PR in the high jump (6-4) to win.
Other top performers included Spoto junior Eric Moate, who won the boys 100 (in a personal-best 10.76) and 200 and finished sixth in the high jump.
Armwood’s boys 4x100 relay team — a football quartet of Alvin Bailey, Leon McQuay III, Wade Edwards and Kaylaun Edwards — prevailed in a school-record time (41.89).
Team results (top 10)
Plant 95, Wharton 85, Steinbrenner 75, Freedom 48, Armwood 47, Riverview 43.5, Alonso 42, Hillsborough 38, Gaither 31, King 25
100_Carrol Hardy (King) 12.05; 200_Sandra Akachukwu (Freedom) 24.92; 400_Jorian Ordway (Hillsborough) 55.81; 800_Scarlett Fox (Plant) 2:16.85; 1600_Mariah Henderson (Wharton) 5:23.29; 3200_Kara Halfaker (Plant) 11:38.05; 100 hurdles_Alexis Wright (Steinbrenner) 15.13; 300 hurdles_Alexis Wright (Steinbrenner) 44.89; 4x100 relay_Strawberry Crest (Brittany Barber, Yasmine Gardiner, Sequoya Williams, Ambria Keys) 50.30; 4x400 relay_Hillsborough (Ciarra Hawkins, Jorian Ordway, Marilyn Hawkins, Tijah Ray) 3:59.60; 4x800 relay_Plant (Caroline Bado, Caroline Gibson, Scarlett Fox, Emory Pitisci) 9:41.48; High jump_Sandra Akachukwu (Freedom) 5-8; Pole vault_Britainey Smith (Wharton) 10-0; Long jump_Quatasia Fantroy (Alonso) 18-4.5; Triple jump_Alexis Wright (Steinbrenner) 39-3.5; Shot put_Andrea Aaron (Chamberlain) 38-9; Discus_Andrea Aaron (Chamberlain) 117-11
Team results (top 10)
Plant 70.83, Jefferson 70, Armwood 58, Chamberlain 54.33, Alonso 51, Spoto 51, Hillsborough 43.33, Steinbrenner 43, Gaither 40.33, Riverview 31
100_Eric Moate (Spoto) 10.76; 200_Eric Moate (Spoto) 22.5; 400_DeAndre James (Blake) 48.91; 800_Jonathan Moore (Jefferson) 1:56.28; 1600_Max del Monte (Chamberlain) 4:23.19; 3200_Brian Sharp (Robinson) 9:41.53; 110 hurdles_Paul Barrett (Gaither) 14.5; 300 hurdles_Paul Barrett (Gaither) 38.2; 4x100 relay_Armwood (Wade Edwards III, Leon McQuay III, Kaylaun Edwards, Alvin Bailey) 41.89; 4x400 relay_Jefferson 3:20.18; 4x800 relay_Steinbrenner 8:11.18; High jump_Paul Barrett (Gaither) 6-4; Pole vault_Parker Diehl (Plant) 13-6; Long jump_Jeremiah Green (Hillsborough) 22-7.5; Triple jump_Jeremiah Green (Hillsborough) 47-3; Shot put_Shelldon Lewinson (Armwood) 52-6.75; Discus_Neil MacInnes (Chamberlain) 148-4.5