LILBURN — Staying in one’s lane is not simply a slang expression to track and field competitors. In fact, it’s literally part of the rules.
However, athletes from around Gwinnett County and metro Atlanta got a chance to step out of their respective lanes — in a manner of speaking — during the Big Orange Relays on Saturday at Parkview High School’s Big Orange Jungle.
Only two events, the 400-meter and 1,600-meter relays, were set up and scored like they would be for any other high school meet.
Most of the other events were ones that don’t normally appear in high school meets, and even the ones that do — the field events — were set up to resemble relays, with teams of competitors from different schools able to earn team points.
The usual format allowed individual competitors to not only test themselves and keep skills sharp, but also have a little fun while doing so.
“There are some relays you never get to run,” said Brookwood coach Eric Rovie, whose Broncos placed third in the girls team standings with 53 points and fifth in the boys standings with 43 points. “It’s cool. We get to work more kids in. We get a lot of kids who don’t compete in the varsity meets, they get a shot. This is a good place to learn to race.”
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a competitive edge or strategizing for teams during the meet, as Parkview coach and meet director Matt Henson pointed out.
“What we do it for is it’s right before county, and we built this meet 10 years ago to give (coaches) a chance to see splits for races from our top four to eight kids in each event, group,” said Henson, whose Panthers finished as runners-up in the boys division (65.5 points) and placed 12th (25 points) in the girls division. “So in other words, the (400 relay), even though we’re not running the open 100, we’re running two (400 relays), so we get to see eight kids run. Then we look at finalizing our county (line-up) and building our region teams because (junior varsity) season will end right after county. It gives us a chance to compete enough kids to see how they line up against competition and maybe not have the same kind of pressure with them lining up side-by-side or one-on-one.”
Still, there was a decidedly lighter atmosphere throughout the day, no moreso than during one of the relay events that never gets run at any other meet.
Several schools chose four of their athletes who normally compete in the shot put and/or discus throw and allowed them to do a little running in competing in the Throwers 400 relay.
Those athletes made for some intriguing races, including Parkview’s David Patterson, who gained the admiration of the fans in the stands and his teammates by making a late kick on the anchor leg to help his Panthers win their heat of the race, on their way to a third-place finish overall in the event in a time of 51.14 seconds.
“I was nervous at the beginning,” Patterson said. “But once I got the baton, I knew that everybody was cheering for me. I just had to run hard. I’m super competitive.
“It was really fun because it was with my friends. That was the biggest part of it.”
Among the athletes who were competing in events closer to what they normally compete, there were several other standouts from a number of Gwinnett teams.
Peachtree Ridge’s girls quartet of Nia Hicks, Tamaii Fuller, Lauren Edwards and Mariah Brooks set two different meet records by winning the 800 sprint medley relay in a time of 1:47.60 and the 800 relay in a time of 1:42.83.
Other first-place finishers from Gwinnett teams included the following: Grayson’s Jazmin Robinson, Se’Daja Drigo and Samantha Smith in the girls shot put relay, Grayson’s Garrett Brophy, Trente Jones and Jakai Clark in the boys shot put relay, Parkview’s Malik Thompson, Justin Henry and Gregory Baker in the boys triple jump relay, North Gwinnett’s Kelsey Worthington, Abigail Ventimiglia and Kellyn Posey in the girls pole vault relay, Grayson’s Kendall McDaniel, Priscilla Ajala and Makayla Cassell in the girls high jump relay, Peachtree Ridge’s Carlton Bryant, Quailyn Leake and Jordan Boswell in the boys high jump relay, Brookwood’s Morgan Bentley, Kyla Ponder and Destiny Jones in the girls long jump relay, Parkview’s Matthew Chavers, Thompson and Henry in the boys long jump relay, North’s Haley Moore, Meah Veraart and Heather Scott in the girls discus relay, Brookwood’s girls A 1,600 sprint relay team, Peachtree Ridge’s boys A 1,600 sprint relay team, Brookwood’s boys 6,400 relay team, Brookwood’s girls 440 shuttle hurdle teams, Parkview’s boys 440 shuttle hurdle team, Grayson 400 relay team, Parkview’s boys 3,200 relay team and Grayson’s boys 1,600 relay team.
In addition, though his team didn’t earn any team points, Parkview’s Brian Hauch was the overall top individual performer in the boys pole vault relay by clearing 15 feet.
Marietta won the team titles in the boys and girls divisions, while Grayson (fourth, 51 points), North (fifth, 40) and Peachtree Ridge (sixth, 38) joined Brookwood in cracking the top 10 in the girls team standings, and Grayson (fourth, 51), Brookwood (fifth, 43), North (eighth, 27.5) and Peachtree Ridge (ninth, 25) turned in top-10 finishes in the boys standings, along with Parkview.