Standout showings by Helton, Funk spice CHS district track performance

Helton resets own CHS javelin record, Funk has best Hornets' pole vault since 2016. Chillicothe to have 17 entries in state-qualifying sectional meet next Saturday

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News
A mere 11 days after eclipsing Jalynn Reeter's 4-years-old school record in the event with a throw of 103' during the Midland Empire Conference track-and-field Championships at home, sophomore Hope Helton of the Chillicothe High School Lady Hornets lets go of the spear on the way to sending it a record-shattering 113'11" (34.48 meters) on her last attempt in Saturday's Class 3 District 8 meet, also at Chillicothe's Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium II. The longest-ever throw by a CHS girl also carried Helton to the district title and a berth in the state-qualifying sectional meet this coming Saturday.
Gavin Funk, Chillicothe High School sophomore, uses his strength, grip and approach speed to bend his vaulting pole and elevate him toward the bar several feet above him during Saturday's Class 3 District 8 track-and-field meet at Chillicothe's Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium II. Funk, having placed no higher than second in any regular-season meet and twice having been out of the team's lineup lately with nothing better than a best height of 10' (3.05m), dramatically established a new personal-best of 11'11" (3.65 meters) to win the event at district. The height is the best by a Hornet since Kyle Ross cleared 13'3" at state in 2016.

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

All that would have been needed would have been for 2014 Chillicothe High School graduate and thrower Faith Peters to somehow come back and do something remarkable to make this past Saturday’s Class 3 District 8 track-and-field meet in Chillicothe the stylish “meet of Faith, Hope and Funk.”

While there was no Faith for the host Lady Hornets and Hornets, each of which took strong third places in the final team standings, there was plenty of pleasing reality, topped by big scoop each of Hope and Funk in the field.

Sophomores Hope Helton and Gavin Funk produced big finishes – and district crowns – in the javelin throw and pole vault, respectively, to highlight CHS’ showing in the meet which starts the 3-tiered postseason competition in the sport.

On her last throw of the javelin, Helton perfectly synchronized her approach run, release point, and follow through to soar the spear through the calm air a whopping 113’11” (34.48 meters).

That not only was about three feet farther than the runnerup, but was a stunning 10’11” farther than Helton’s school-record-breaking throw of 103’ during the May 4 Midland Empire Conference Championships, also held on Chillicothe’s exemplary Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium II track-and-field facilities.

Eleven days before, Helton had exceeded the program’s 4-years-old record in the javelin throw (which, it should be noted, only returned to high school competition within the past half-dozen years after more than half-century of discontinuance) previously held by Jalynn Reeter at 101’3”.

Technically, Helton already had rewritten her record on her second of four district throws when she uncorked one of 105’3” (32.08m). She also surpassed her former mark with a 103’1” (31.43m) effort on throw three.

CHS throwers coach Ken Stull was overheard encouraging her, prior to the final round of attempts, “You’ve got two good ones in the books. Now really go after it on this last one.”

Did she ever.

About five hours later or more, classmate Funk turned the CHS clock back a hair further than Helton had done at conference.

Having had something of a struggling year – three times failing to clear a meet’s opening height and twice in recent weeks not being one of the Hornets entered in the pole vault, Funk figured to be a non-factor in the battle for one of the top-4 spots which meant advancement to the May 22 state-qualifying sectional meet.

However, he demonstrated immediately that this was a new day – his day – by not only getting over the elevated bar at the opening height of 9’ on his first try, but repeating that at, effectively, 9’6” and 10’, too. That latter height (3.05m) equaled his pinnacle for the season.

When the bar was moved up to 10’6” (3.2m) and Funk missed on each of his first two attempts, it appeared his day, although not his season since he’d already clinched no worse than fourth place, was just about over.

However, after consultation with and exhortation from former Hornets vaulter and 2021 assistant coach Matt Shaffer, Funk got up and over the bar on his would-be last try, clinching third place.

He didn’t stop there, though.

With senior teammate Rudy Yutzy and a Richmond Spartan also still competing, the suddenly-invigorated and confident Funk was the only one of the trio to get over the next height – 11’ (3.35m) – on the first try. When Yutzy missed on all three attempts, he settled for third and advancement to sectional, while the contestant from boys’ team champion Richmond cleared the bar on try No. 2. 

That took the bar up to nearly 12’ (11’5”/3.5m) to see if either could clear it. If not, Funk would be district champ by virtue of  fewer misses (none) at the previous height.

Each went twice and missed, but, on his third go, Funk continued his special day, keeping the bar in place, while his RHS counterpart missed and was eliminated.

The district crown unexpectedly his, the Hornets 10th grader decided just how far his fortunes would go on this day.

The bar raised again – this time to 11’11” (3.65m), Funk made his first approach, planted his pole in the launch box, pulled down on it, and, as it flexed, rode it up and up into the air until, with just enough forward momentum left, he curled up and over the bar.

The successful 11’11” jump turned out to be the best by any Hornet since then-senior Kyle Ross earned a sixth-place state-meet medal at 13’6” in 2016. The year before, as a senior, M. Shaffer had finished 11th at state while clearing 12’6’ and Lady Hornet classmate Lauren Jones took second at state at 10’9”.

Rolling the dice again, Funk had the bar raised to 12’5” (3.8m), nearly 2-1/2 feet higher than he’d ever cleared in competition prior to Saturday, but called it a day after missing twice there.

Junior Damarcus Kelow of Chillicothe High School gets set to leave the ground – or at least the concrete throwing ring – and release the shot put during his first throw in the competition at Saturday's Class 3 District 8 track-and-field meet at Chillicothe's Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium II. Kelow third of four attempts carried 48'10" (14.88m), giving him one of CHS' five event wins in the district meet. Kelow advanced to state-qualifying sectional competition at Odessa this coming Saturday in both the shot put and discus throw.

The Funk and Helton event wins – both unexpected to a degree – were part of a solid, 5-wins days for Chillicothe athletes. All five came in solo events.

Helton’s was the first to go in the books, followed relatively soon by junior Damarcus Kelow’s winning toss of 48’10” (14.88m), exceeding by 13 inches his personal-best set while winning the MEC meet title May 4.

Next to go “in the bank” was the high jump win by junior Tristan Forck at an even 6’ (1.83m).

Junior Tristan Forck of Chillicothe High School's track-and-field Hornets goes over the high jump bar on his way to winning the event in Saturday's Class 3 District 8 high school meet at Chillicothe's Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium II. Forck, who missed multiple early-season meets with injury, topped out at 6' even (1.83 meters) to claim one of the four qualifying spots for this coming Saturday's sectional meet.

Surprisingly, Forck, who won the event during the season-starting Chillicothe Time Trials meet in late March at 6’2-3/4” before being sidelined for a while, actually missed his first attempt at the first height he tried Saturday – 5’6” (1.68m).

After assuring himself a top-4 finish and advancement to sectional when he then cleared the next height (5’8”/1.73m), the Hornet was the only one of the remaining quartet to have a miss at 5’10” (1.78m), taking two tries to get over.

However, when the bar went up to 6’, each of his fellow competitors from Maryville, Lawson and Richmond tried three times apiece and missed, while the Chillicothe stood and watched, having jumped it successfully on his first attempt.

When the last of the misses occurred, making him district champion, Forck unsuccessfully tried three times at 6’2”.

Fourth to finish first for Chillicothe was freshman Jolie Bonderer in the 1,600-meters run.

Although the 800 tended to be her better solo race through the regular season, her winning time of 5:40.41 in the 1,600 Saturday – five-plus seconds ahead of the runnerup – proved to be her individual ticket to sectional.

When the 800 rolled around later in the meet, Bonderer was passed for fourth place on the backstretch of the second and final lap, but surged back past the runner on the home stretch about 50 yards shy of the finish line, only to have that unsuspecting runner react in time to reaccelerate herself and reclaim fourth by a scant .05 second. It appeared that, had the Lady Hornet lurked just behind the other runner until about the last 20 yards before “kicking,” the element of surprise might have prevented the other runner from having time for her saving counter-surge.

Funk’s win then rounded out the handful of CHS event conquests.

Given this year’s first-time expansion of track-and-field postseason competition in Missouri from four classifications to five, an initial examination of other district-meet results from around the state suggests a lowering of the performance standards not only Chillicothe’s district champions will need to approach or attain to advance beyond sectional to state, but the other Hornets and Lady Hornets sectional qualifiers will chase this coming Saturday at Odessa in the quest for state.

Altogether, Chillicothe will have 17 participating entries (some relays and some with two in the same event) at sectional – nine boys and eight girls.

Beyond the five district champions already cited – one of whom (Kelow) is sectional-qualified in a second event (discus throw), as well, Chillicothe athletes/relay squads competing at Odessa this coming Saturday will include:

Senior distance runner Hayden Simmer in both the 1,600 and 3, 200; freshman Emmy Dillon in the 300-meters low hurdles; junior Braxten Johnson in the 110-meters high hurdles; sophomore Katelynn Fleener in the girls’ shot put; sophomore Aliyah Briner in the 3,200; freshman Madison Albaugh in the high jump; junior Isaiah Sprong in the javelin throw; the girls’ 3,200-meters relay; and the girls’ 1,600 relay.

On the two advancing CHS relays were Delaney May, Kadence Shipers, Albaugh and Bonderer on the 4x800 group and Kayanna Cranmer, Bronlyn Ward, Bonderer and Albaugh in the 4x400.  Pre-designated alternates and substitutes are permitted for the relay squads.

“We are very happy for all of our athletes who qualified to move on to sectionals,” Bill Shaffer, long-time Hornets head coach and part of a staff which works collegially with both genders, focusing on event types, reacted to Saturday’s proceedings and results.

“As a staff, we realized how most of our kids had never competed in a district track meet before. This was true for all of the schools in attendance, and I was impressed with the way everyone handled themselves.”

Mused Karen Jackson, Lady Hornets head coach, “Exactly what Bill said. Extremely impressed with all of our athletes.”

With this being the first time through for the next 5-classes format and with some district sites likely having encountered weather-related issues this past Saturday while Chillicothe caught a break and stayed dry after the overnight hours that morning, drawing hard-and-fast conclusions or comparative inferences from the performances produced in the Class 3 District 7 meet at Clinton – the district whose qualifiers those from the district meet here will battle for the four state berths per event up for grabs – could be misleading.

“We look forward to working with everyone (who has advanced) and trying to qualify for the state meet,” B. Shaffer shared. “Looking at the other district, I think that they all have a very strong chance of finishing in the top four next weekend,” an opinion Jackson also echoed.

Freshman Emmy Dillon, left, of the Chillicothe High School Lady Hornets trails a Kansas City: St. Pius X competitor over the second hurdle of the 300-meters low hurdles race in Saturday's Class 3 District 8 track-and-field meet at Chillicothe's Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium II. SPX entries would post the top two times in the race, but Dillon would be a solid third in 51.82 seconds, punching her ticket to this coming Saturday's state-qualifying sectional meet. Aided by Dillon's six points, the CHS girls took third place in the team competition, as well.

While Chillicothe generated five district wins, it had only two runnerup finishes, one of which actually had been anticipated to more likely be a win.

Kelow, who threw the discus a personal-best of 170-feet-plus earlier in the week, fouled in his first two attempts at district Saturday, leading him to make a more-controlled third throw to make sure he didn’t foul and the disc stayed within the boundaries.

When he tried a more full-speed attempt on his last throw, it again resulted in a foul, leaving his 138’11” (42.34m) throw as his only counting entry. However, that still was good enough by more than six feet for a top-4 spot and actually claimed second, less than three feet behind the winner.

Considering the District 7 winning distance was just under 120’, only a health issue which prevents him from competing at sectional or four fouled attempts would seem likely to stand between him and a trip to state in both weight throws, where he’d figure to be a top contender for a medal (top-8 finish)

Chillicothe High School Lady Hornets senior Delaney May, right, gives the baton to junior Kadence Shipers for the second leg of the 3,200-meters relay early in Saturday's Class 3 District 8 track-and-field meet at Chillicothe's Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium II. With the subseqent efforts of Jolie Bonderer and Madison Albaugh, as well, the CHS quartet finished second in 11:03.66, providing eight points to the CHS girls' team total and advancing the relay unit to this coming Saturday's state-qualifying sectional meet at Odessa.

The other Chillicothe second place came courtesy of the combined efforts of May, Shipers, Albaugh and Bonderer in the 3,200 relay. Their time was 11:03.66, a performance which likely will send them on to state, if they can repeat it at Odessa.

Joining Yutzy in finishing in third place in their respective events were Fleener, Dillon, Albaugh and Johnson.

Having qualified with his 17.23 in the high hurdles earlier in the day, Johnson was in position and on pace for a top-4 finish in the 300-meters intermediates, as well, when, as he approached the first hurdle coming out of the curve at the north end of Litton Stadium, he realized he’d be too close to it on his normal stride and tried to “chop” his steps. However, in doing so, he lost his balance and, with only a half-jump, tumbled through the barrier and fell, rolling partially into the lane to his left, where that runner was well behind him and not a threat to step on or be tripped up by him.

Apparently uninjured, except for some likely “track rash,” the Hornet gamely scrambled back to his feet and sprinted on to the remaining two hurdles, coming with 0.65 second – just over a stride – of catching up to the fourth-place finisher.

Fleener pumped the girls’ shot 32’2” (9.8m), Albaugh tied for third with her high jump of 4’7”, and Dillon ran the low hurdles in 51.82 seconds.

Snaring the last qualifying spots to continue their seasons were Simmer with his times of 10:35.94 in the 3,200 and 4:55.69 in the 1,600, Briner with her 13.34.93 in the 3,200, and the girls’ 1,600 relay squad with its 4:26.78.

Freshman Madison Albaugh of the Chillicothe High School track-and-field Lady Hornets strides down the homestretch to the finish line comfortably in control of the fourth and final sectional-meet-qualifying place in the 1,600-meters relay of Saturday's Class 3 District 8 at Chillicothe's Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium II. Preceded in the race by Kayanna Cranmer, Bronlyn Ward, and Jolie Bonderer – each also a ninth grader, Albaugh reached the finish line in 4:216.78.

Team-wise, although they scored one less point than the boys, the Lady Hornets came the closest to the team crown. They took third with 90 points, only three back of MEC team champ Cameron, but 31-1/2 behind winner Lawson.

In the boys’ division, CHS’ third-place total of 91 points was less than a point ahead of fourth-place Maryville, but 43-1/3 back of champion Richmond and 36-1/3 behind Lawson.

The meet was threatened leading up to it by a strong forecast of rain, but the air currents shifted enough that conditions turned out to be dry and quite amenable to competition.

That, along with the usual voluntary community assistance and cooperation that trademarks Chillicothe-hosted track-and-field meets, made for a very smooth day.

“I want to give a big thank you to everyone who helped with the meet this weekend,” lauded B. Shaffer. “We could not have done it without them.”

Should Chillicothe advance one or more entries to state, it is worth noting in advance that, between the switch to five classifications this year and COVID-19 precautionary measures, the Missouri State High School Activities Association this year has switched to a single-day format for each classification’s state meet. The Class 3 event at Jefferson City High School will be Saturday, May 29.

With the single-day approach, the state meet will be conducted similar to most regular-season meets with all track races run against time. Under the customary 2-days format, preliminary heats for the races shorter than 800 meters are held on one day to set a final field of eight for a head-to-head battle the second day.