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Injury forces Capel to a bitter finish

John Capel walked off the track and onto a small nearby field, fenced on three sides.

While fans cheered other athletes at the Class 4A, District 8 meet about 100 feet away, Capel, wearing a blue brace tightly around his right thigh, limped along the chain-link fence's edges like an injured thoroughbred let out to pasture. His parents paced slowly behind him until he stopped to lean against the 6-foot high fence. The Hernando senior reached out for the fence, hung his head between his arms and cried.

John Capel's high school career is over.

After pulling a hamstring on April 7, Capel aggravated the injury at last week's Gulf Coast Athletic Conference meet. On Thursday, Capel tried to run in the district meet at Central High _ the only way he could qualify for regional or state to defend his title in the 100- and 200-meter dashes.

In his first attempt, the 100, Capel crossed the finish line last in his heat and sixth out of seven competitors with a time of 11.69. Though still registered for the 200, Capel, one of the nation's fastest sprinters, went home with his parents before the day was done. With Capel gone, Central defeated Hernando for the second time in a week 114-112.

"You win state one year and you can't even qualify the next? There ain't much you can do to shrug that off," Capel said.

Central made it a clean sweep when the girls crushed Hernando 104-83. The Central girls have beaten the Leopards three times head-to-head: at the county, GCAC and district meets.

Capel was running last with about 20 meters to go in the 100 when he turned on all the speed he had left and passed one runner. After the race, Capel pleaded in vain with the judges, saying he stretched his neck ahead for fourth place.

"You saw him speed up at the end _ that's what he should've done at the beginning," Hernando coach Rodney Byrd said. "He was a little timid . . . scared of hurting it further."

He ambled off the track with eyes widened and mouth hanging slightly open. His father, John Sr., tried to hold his son after the race. Capel shrugged him off and headed for the field outside.

"I'm done, man," he told his father.

"What happened?" his father insisted.

"I couldn't sprint, man! . . . I couldn't sprint."

His parents stood by him along the fence as the finality of their son's high school track career set in; it was the first time both of his parents together had seen him run in high school. John Sr. carefully put his left hand on his son's shoulder while his mother, Virginia, put her right arm around her son's back and gently wiped the tears from his eyes and the sweat from his brow with her left hand.

"Going to state ain't worth never running again, ever," she told him, looking straight into his eyes. Capel will run again next year for the University of Florida, where he received a scholarship for football.

Capel's college career may be ahead of him at Florida, but his future as a high school athlete is certain: he said he will not run in any national events this summer. Bitterly, he looks to the future.

"I can't believe . . ." he said, pausing and shaking his head. "I guess I'm just going to concentrate on football."

5A-8: Rams' Holmes

misses meet

LAND O'LAKES _ The Ridgewood girls track team found out last week it would be without star Char Foster for the remainder of the season. Thursday morning, it found out it would be without another star, Fannie Holmes.

Holmes, a five-event competitor and the Sunshine Athletic Conference champion in three events, was admitted to the hospital Wednesday afternoon and had emergency surgery, causing her to miss Thursday's meet.

The remaining Rams then went out and won one for Fannie, turning in an impressive display of balance and depth in scoring 196 points and sending more than 20 athletes on to next week's regional meet.

"Everyone stepped up," coach Sue Vien said. "Everyone."

The Rams won six events (Lizzy Leigh won the 1,600 and 3,200), but their depth is what made them superior to the rest of the field. They placed at least two finishers in the top four in eight of the 14 individual events.

Gulf was second with 115.5 points, while River Ridge was third at 88.5.

The Ram boys were equally dominant, scoring 168 points and nearly doubling the next finisher, Gulf, which had 85 points.

The Ridgewood boys got wins from Eddie Haab (shot put), Dave Kennedy (1,600), Robbie Klinger (400), Jeff Shuhert (800) and James Vitale (3,200). But like the girls, it was depth that turned the meet into a romp. After a bad meet last season (the Rams won, but only by a few points), the Rams flexed their muscles by taking first and second in four events.

"We got a few more people out here than I expected," Ridgewood coach Glen Cable said. "We have 18 guys that advanced to next week. We had a lot of personal bests and some great senior leadership. We came to win the district."

Ashlea Thomas of River Ridge and Huey Whitaker of Springstead were both three-event winners. Thomas won the 100, 200 and long jump, while Whitaker won the long, high and triple jumps. Thomas also anchored River Ridge's winning 4x100 relay team.

Leigh and Gulf's Nate Bisson were double winners. Bisson won the 100 and 200.

River Ridge's Tom Drennan set a school record and had the best throw in Pasco County this season in winning the shot put at 49 feet, 3{ inches.