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Fitzpatrick enjoys his role on championship team

He didn't accomplish all he wanted, but Brooksville's Kevin Fitzpatrick left the NCAA Track & Field Championships in Oregon earlier this week feeling happy with the haul he and his University of Tennessee teammates brought home. Last Friday, Fitzpatrick earned All-America honors after placing 10th in his specialty, the discus. On Saturday, Tennessee won the national championship, its first men's team title since 1974.

Afterwards, Fitzpatrick said, the Volunteers did "a whole lot of celebrating."

John Sisk of the Tennessee sports information department confirmed that. When Tennessee clinched its title, Sisk said, Fitzpatrick helped lead the celebration.

"I think he got more pumped for that than he did for some of his throws," Sisk said.

"When it was over, a group of our guys chased down our head coach, Doug Brown, and threw him in the steeplechase pit. But one of our assistants, George Watts, didn't want to get wet, so he took off running.

"Kevin (Fitzpatrick) took off after him. Kevin was flying. He's agile and quick," Sisk said.

Fitzpatrick is 6-foot-4 and weighs 230 pounds. But, said Sisk, "He looked like he was trying out for our sprinting corps. Kevin ran across the stadium chasing (Watts), in front of 9,000 people who were watching, and finally caught him to make sure he got wet. It was great. Very spontaneous. The crowd was just going crazy. They loved it."

Sisk said he suspected the celebration would be highlighted when CBS airs the national championship meet at 4 p.m. June 16.

"Kevin should get some air time," Sisk said. "It was great for the cameras."

But as soon as the meet was done, it was back to reality. Fitzpatrick started summer classes at Tennessee on Monday.

The hectic past few days capped a successful junior season for Fitzpatrick, a two-time Class 3A high school state discus champion who graduated from Hernando High in 1988.

His top throw of the season, 190-3, came in early May. Later that month, he helped lead Tennessee to the Southeastern Conference team championship by placing second in the discus and the hammer throw.

Fitzpatrick's discus throw of 190-3 qualified him for his first NCAA championship meet. He was seeded ninth entering the meet, held at the University of Oregon.

He made the first cut, when the field was pared from 16 to 12, but did not fare so well in the next cut to eight.

"I couldn't put it together," said Fitpatrick, who has also qualified to compete in The Athletic Congress (TAC) senior championships in New York later this month. "I couldn't get anything to go."

To place eighth or better at the NCAA meet, Fitzpatrick needed a throw of at least 180-0. He knew he would not advance, he said, "as soon as they marked my last throw."

Fitzpatrick needed to place at least eighth to add points to Tennessee's team effort, one of his pre-meet goals.

He did not do that, but did earn the all-America honors by finishing as the sixth-highest American in a field that included five foreign athletes. The top eight American finishers earn the accolade.

Tennessee won the national title by scoring 51 points, nine better than runner-up Washington State University. Eight of Tennessee's 16 NCAA qualifiers managed to score.

"It's kind of a weird feeling, because I would have loved to have scored some points," Fitzpatrick said, "but I was still a part of the team, still there, and I feel just as much a part of winning the national championship as the guy who scored 10 points."

"You can always score some points," Sisk said, "but it's not often that you can share in a team's national championship. I think Kevin realizes the significance of what we've accomplished."

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