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Brother influenced Leopard

Phil Dysart was "a little kid playing around" when Hernando won the 1997 Class 4A state title, so he doesn't remember much about the race or the excitement that followed.

What he does know is the role his brother, Paul, played on that team.

Not one of the Leopards' fastest runners, Paul took it upon himself to inspire his teammates by organizing offseason runs and posting motivational phrases on their cars.

Five years later, Dysart has carved out a similar niche for himself on a Hernando squad that hopes to finish in the top 10 at Saturday's state meet.

Dysart, a senior, joins teammates Mike Laird, Logan Emerson, Zak Lukas, Bret Chatman, Steve Wilkins and Mike Belotti in the Class 2A boys race at Ed Radice Park in Tampa.

"He just wants to see everybody do well. He's a good teammate in that regard," Hernando coach Ernie Chatman said.

"He wants to do well, but he also wants other people to do well. And he wants to have an impact on helping other people do well."

Just like his brother.

Paul Dysart was Hernando's No. 5 runner but did many of the little things that helped will the Leopards to the team title.

He organized practice runs during the offseason and posted slogans _ such as Steve Prefontaine's, "To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the Gift" _ on teammates' cars during the week of the state meet.

"He was very instrumental in their success," Chatman said. "He was probably the inspirational leader of the team."

Paul Dysart also loved to run. The enjoyment he got from cross country helped spark his brother's interest in the sport.

Phil Dysart had played baseball most of his life but decided to try cross country as a freshman. A broken wrist sustained during a soccer game kept him from playing baseball in the spring, so he went out for track.

He hasn't played baseball since.

"Three or four years ago, I never would have thought that I'd be caring more about cross country than baseball," Dysart said.

Cross country didn't come easy, so he continually pushed himself _ and his teammates _ to improve.

Dysart didn't finish faster than 24 minutes during his freshman year, so he logged 464 miles the next summer and a team-best 600 after his sophomore season.

He ran another 600 miles this past summer but put in more quality miles _ going on longer runs at a faster pace.

He encouraged his teammates to join him every step of the way.

"No one else on the team was stepping up to do that," said Dysart, the Leopards' No. 5 runner. "So I took it on myself to get everyone together."

The work paid off at the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference meet, where Dysart was the third Hernando runner across the finish line and eighth overall in a personal-best 17:42, helping the Leopards to the team title.

Dysart's time represented a seven-minute improvement from his freshman year, a jump Chatman termed, "significant."

Not coincidentally, Hernando watched the Prefontaine movie, Without Limits, the night before the race.

"That was my best race," Dysart said. "We haven't watched (the movie) since, and I haven't done too well since then."

From the time he started running, one of Dysart's goals has been to beat his brother's times.

Paul Dysart's best 3-mile time was 16:29, about 20 seconds faster than Phil's.

If he doesn't catch his brother in cross country, Dysart still could do it in track, where he has his sights set on his brother's mile time of 4:45.

But first, there is this weekend's state meet. How best to cap his final cross country season?

"I think, this being the state meet, (it would be) if he went out and ran a great race and had a positive impact on what our positioning at the end of the race would be," Chatman said.

Just like his brother.

Frank Pastor can be reached at (800) 333-7505, ext. 1430. Send e-mail to pastorsptimes.com.

STATE MEET

WHEN: Saturday

WHERE: Ed Radice Sports Complex, Tampa

STARTING TIMES: 2A boys _ 10:45 a.m.; 3A girls _ 11:15; 3A boys _ 11:50.

COUNTY ENTRANTS: 2A boys _ Mike Laird (Hernando), Logan Emerson (Hernando), Zak Lukas (Hernando), Bret Chatman (Hernando), Phil Dysart (Hernando), Steve Wilkins (Hernando), Mike Belotti (Hernando); 3A girls _ Roxanne Ceccarelli (Central), Kerri Costanzo (Central), Magen Loew (Central), Amanda Adams (Central), Felicia Fritz (Central), Christine Strally (Central), Brianna Mahoney (Central); 3A boys _ Kurt Lee (Central).

THE SKINNY: Hernando hopes for a top 10 finish after winning conference and district titles. The Leopards have two connections to their 1997 4A state championship squad in Dysart and Emerson, whose brothers, Paul Dysart and John Emerson, were on the team. Lee was part of Central's ninth-place squad last season. The Bears girls advanced in coach Juliann Davila's first year.

AT STAKE: Team trophies will be awarded to the champion and runner-up and medallions to the top 10 individuals in each class.

DIRECTIONS: Take 275 South to the Bearss Avenue exit and go west. Bearss becomes Erlich Road. Continue west until it ends at Sickles High School. Turn right onto Gunn Highway. Go north to the first light and turn left onto South Mobley. Go west about 1.8 miles. Ed Radice Park is on the left.

ADMISSION: $7

_ Compiled by Frank Pastor.

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