TAMPA —Steinbrenner's 4x100 relay team was in second place when Shyheem Barthel passed the baton to teammate Kevin Merrell in Wednesday's Class 4A, District 6 meet at Wharton High. But Barthel wasn't too concerned about that placement.
"I got confidence in all of them," he said. "But I knew once I got it to Kevin, it would be a wrap."
Merrell, fresh off a win in the 100 meters, gained ground on the last leg of the relay, for which the Warriors were seeded sixth, and crossed the finish line first, sealing his second district title of the afternoon and helping the Warriors distance themselves from the field.
The Steinbrenner boys won five track events and one field event to take first overall with 211 points. Freedom came in second (129) and Alonso third (99). On the girls side, Wharton took the top spot with 179 points, while Steinbrenner was second (155) and Freedom (110).
Merrell made a name for himself on the track Wednesday. But the 6-foot-1 senior has already done that on the baseball field. The shortstop turned sprinter, a USF baseball commit, hadn't run competitively since the sixth grade before this season, but when he began his senior year, Merrell decided to give the sport one last try.
"I wanted to come out here and help the team," said Merrell, who owns a .450 batting average and a team-high 19 stolen bases this season. "I knew I had a good chance to help them."
Steinbrenner, which has now won three straight boys track district championships, had plenty of help Wednesday, winning by 82 points. Second-place Freedom had wins in the 400 and 4x100 relay.
The Wharton girls won four track events, with Bryanna Rivers becoming a double district champion with wins in the 800 and 1,600.
Merrell's first and only track season will continue at the region level next week, but the two-sport athlete will also compete in the baseball district tournament. It's a lot to juggle, he admits, but Merrell said he never lets the pressure get him down.
"I just try to go out there and have fun with it," he said. "The results will take care of themselves."
And before long, Merrell hopes, he'll be the proud owner of yet another district title.
Class 3A-9: Hillsborough junior Jada Roberson and Middleton senior Anthony "Shug" Rhynes turned in some of the highlight performances of the day at Leto High.
Roberson was the lone three-event individual champion. She cleared 16 feet in the long jump, 34-10 in the triple jump and outdistanced the 100-meters field in 12.37 seconds. And for good measure, she ran a leg for the Terriers' winning 4x400 relay team.
Rhynes, in just his first track season, won the 100 (10.99) and 200 meters (22.42). He beat out fellow senior football standout Deiondre Porter of Jefferson in both races. Porter did prevail in the long jump (22-3.75), holding off another football star, Hillsborough junior Dwayne Lawson. The Terrier also claimed his own medal, winning the high jump (6-02).
Other multiple champions included Hillsborough sophomore Chloe Jones (shot put, discus), Spoto sophomore Janae Caldwell (400, 200), Gaither junior Samson Moore (110, 300 hurdles) and Robinson junior Jack Rogers (1,600. 800).
Team results were not available at press time.
Class 2A-3: In an encore of last week's district championship, Academy of the Holy Names surged from behind in the 3,200 meters to catch and pass Fort Myers Dunbar for the girls region title at Berkeley Prep.
The Jaguars placed second, fifth and seventh in the 3,200 to wiggle in front of Dunbar. They then scored four more points in the final event, the 4x400 relay, placing fifth in 4:16.33. The Jaguars are sending 10 qualifiers and their 4x800 relay team to state.
"Honestly, we weren't even focused on the team score, we just wanted to get as many girls as possible through to states," coach Kelly Griffin said. "We have a lot of girls that run three or four events, can't have a specialist because they have to run multiple events."
On the boys side, Jesuit amassed 87 points in just the field events, thanks to Herculean throws from Jack Taylor and taking four of the top five spots in pole vault. Taylor won the shot put (49-9) and discus (159-7), extending his personal record in the latter. Nick Catchur cleared 14 feet to win the pole vault in a strong headwind. Jesuit finished 39 points better than runners-up Immokalee and Dunbar (58).
Tampa Catholic's boys 4x400 relay provided excitement by breaking the school record by the narrowest of margins. The Crusaders stacked the relay and it paid off. The boys ran a 3:28.97, eclipsing the mark of 3:28.98. Nathan Nammour, winner of the 400 (49.48) ran a blistering anchor leg with Sarasota Booker and Gibbs breathing down his neck.
TC coach Aaron Prather pointed out that it was the first time in school history the Crusaders had four region champions. Freshman Alise Davis won the shot put in a personal record (41-4), TJ Harrell won the boys 200 (22.25) and Nicole Carroll won the girls pole vault at 11-0.
The Crusaders set down another school record when Betia Washington ran a 58.19 in the 400 prelims, then placed third (58.28) in the finals. Jacob Rios claimed second in the discus (151-0), cracking his personal record by more than 10 feet, then third in the shot (45-5).
Andy Warrener, Times correspondent