Track and field may be the least appreciated of all prep sports, and I don't know why.
It's running, jumping and throwing — the original sports — still on display in the same basic form used in ancient times. Sure, track has strategy, but ultimately it comes down to who can run fast, jump high and throw far.
Lace 'em up, line up and go.
Where else can you see multiple sports neatly woven into a singular event? Where else can you witness a competition so pure and simple, yet so thrilling? Every race has the potential to be a mini-drama of grimacing faces, pumping arms and burning hamstrings.
The stands should be packed, but you don't see many fans beyond family and friends. It's a shame, especially considering the caliber of county athletes this season.
Today's region meets offer one of the last chances to see these stars, many who rank among the state and nation's best. Gaither plays host to the 4A-2 meet, or you can make the drive to Punta Gorda Charlotte High for the 3A-3 meet.
At Gaither, Chamberlain's Dentarius Locke heads the list. I call Locke "Killjoy" because he's taken all the fun out of the 100- and 200-meter events this year. Nationally ranked, his initial burst is so quick the race is over before it starts. He looks fast even when he walks.
One of the best races will be in the boys 1,600 and 800. Durant's John Mitchell will have to beat an entire family to succeed. He'll face Sickles' Derek Wehunt in the 1,600 and brother Daniel Wehunt in the 800. Derek also is a favorite in the 3,200.
On the girls side, Plant City's Jasmine Pope and Chamberlain's Amanda Leland renew their rivalry after a photo finish at districts. Pope edged Leland by .004 of a second in the 100, and by .33 in the 200, but don't count out Leland.
Durant's Grace VanDeGrift also may end up singing a victory song. Fresh off a win in last week's Brandon Idol — she played guitar and performed Taylor Swift's White Horse — she will look to repeat that success in the 1,600 and 3,200 at Gaither.
Hillsborough's Terrence "T-Rex" Mitchell leads the Terriers at the 3A regional. Mitchell won the 100, 300 hurdles, long jump and triple jump in the district meet last week. Terriers teammate Lindsey Lamar won the 200, finished second in the 100 and third in the 400.
Brandon's Desmond McGill will challenge Mitchell in the 300 hurdles, and McGill and Leto's Jeremy Deering will have a showdown in the 110 hurdles.
The best race, however, may be the boys 4x400 where Wharton, Armwood and Charlotte will run below 3:22.
The girls 4x400 also should be competitive between Hillsborough and Wharton, led by Amani Bryant. Bryant is a tiny dynamo who coolly runs with shades and won't be challenged in the 100 or 300 hurdles.
Tampa Bay Tech's LaShae "Legs" White will put her graceful stride against Hillsborough's Brittney Barton in the 400. Also look for Blake's Marissa McEleveen to make a strong showing in the long and triple jumps.
Overall, both meets should feature kids pushing their bodies to the limit. The track athlete can't take a play off, can't ride on a teammate's coattails, can't hide.
It's real, raw and riveting. Give it a chance. That's all I'm saying.
You can reach Ernest Hooper at firstname.lastname@example.org.