Last Tuesday’s annual Top Ten Track and Field meet was conducted in Laurel under a gray sky offering periodic sprinkles of rain flavored by a persistent cold breeze.
Nothing unusual about this, on the last day of April in Montana, and this weather did not seem to faze the 150 or more athletes competing in 17 running, jumping or throwing events.
Top Ten is my favorite high school meet of the year, although the excitement of the two-day state meets (on the last Friday and Saturday of May) can rival it. The local Top Ten sponsor, the Billings Roundtable, conducts this meet with brisk efficiency: Starting at 3:30 in the afternoon, it always is ending about four hours later.
My only critique is that, if you’re watching pole vault and high jump, there is no way to know the height of the bar that competitors are trying to propel themselves over. Why not follow what is done at most state meets I’ve attended and place a large sign that can be rotated to show spectators the height being contested?
Why not use the big electronic scoreboard at Laurel, across the field from the grandstand, to do more than list what competitors have done at the end of an event? Why not also use it to note current leaders in various events, particularly long jump, triple jump and the three throwing events? (But that may be asking too much.)
From schools large and small
One very good thing about Top Ten is that athletes from schools of all sizes are invited to compete, as long as they have attained results, in any of the 17 events, which place them among the ten best in the region, to date.
The region for this Top Ten is any Montana school, large or small, within a radius of 150 miles from Billings. Several other Top Ten Meets happen around the state — Glasgow, Helena, Missoula, possibly elsewhere — and operate the same way: Ten invited competitors in each event compete for five medals. The big schools, of course, send the most athletes and tend to dominate spots on the podium.
But there are always exceptions. Billings Top Ten includes the four Class AA schools — three from Billings: Senior, West and Skyview — along with Bozeman. Local Class A schools Billings Central and Laurel are joined by Belgrade, Livingston, Lewistown, Hardin and Miles City - then by a host of Class B and C schools.
This means that a javelin thrower from Class C Ryegate named Collin Brosz can qualify in ninth place going into Top Ten, with a throw of 161 feet 4 inches, and if he has a good day and throws the spear 170 feet — which he did — he can end up on the podium with a second-place medal around his neck.
At this meet, on this day, this throw by Brosz was exceeded only by a 185-foot-7-inch toss by another athlete from a smaller school, Ty Bermes of Class B Joliet (which only a few years ago got big enough to move up from Class C). Bermes also won the Top Ten boys’ high jump, clearing the bar at 6 feet 3 inches (he had come in with a 6-4 mark earlier in the season).
So it isn’t just big school athletes who excel. Abby Bymaster of the combined Broadview-Lavina girls’ team came into the shotput competition with the best mark, 38 feet 6 inches. She didn’t quite equal that, but her throw of 37 feet 11 inches was leading the pack until Bethany Rides Horse of Class A Hardin, on her sixth and final attempt, heaved the cannonball (well, that’s what it looks like) 39 feet 6 inches. Rides Horse, like Ty Bermes, was also a double winner, with her throw of 128 feet 3 inches winning the javelin.
There were four other double winners, two girls, two boys. On the boys’ side, like Ty Bermes, the other two also came from Class B schools. Dustin Sobrero of Columbus triumphed in both the 100- and 200-meter dashes, while Ike Zier of Manhattan won both the 110- and 300-meter hurdles.
On the girls’ side, Bethany Rides Horse was joined by two runners from Class AA Billings Senior: Chloe Rector in the 100 and 200 meter dashes and Christina Aragon in the 800 and 1600 meter runs.
Aragon — that name may sound familiar. Christina’s two older sisters, Alexa and Danielle, both excelled in multiple events at Billings Senior High, and last year, as a senior, Danielle obliterated a 39-year-old all-class state record in the girls’ 800-meter run. Both of the older Aragon girls now are running for Notre Dame.
Christina’s just a freshman, but she ran with assurance, hanging with early leaders, then striding out strongly in the final 200 meters to win the 1,600 by three and a half seconds and the 800 by more than four seconds.
Another freshman girl, Baylee Green from Class B Roundup (where I live), ran in that same 800; she finished 16 seconds behind the winner but ran close to her best time in this event. For Class B and C athletes like Green, this week marks the end of competing in meets against athletes from any other classes except their own.
For the smaller Montana schools, last week marked the end of the regular track and field season and the beginning of the second season: the march from District to Divisional Meets, each time winnowing all but the top five or six in each event (this varies) to advance to separate Class B and C State Meets.
So Baylee Green, for example, now says goodbye to another freshman distance runner she’s competed with not only all this season, but for the previous two junior high school track and field seasons, Emma Chandler of Absarokee. Why? Because Absarokee is Class C and Roundup Class B.
Lose some, gain Others
Both girls therefore lose some of their toughest competitors; each, however, will likely gain new tough competitors from Class B or C schools to the west, north or northeast.
This narrowing down doesn’t happen to Class A and AA athletes for one more week. Because there are fewer of those schools, they can dispense with District meets and stage only Divisional meets to qualify athletes for state. (In AA there is another way to qualify for state besides placing in the top five out of the two Divisionals; this is by equaling or exceeding a pre-established mark in an event at some time during the regular season.)
Laurel is the site this year not only for the District Class B Meet that includes Roundup, but also for the Divisional Meet that will bring teams from southeastern and southwestern Montana.
On May 24-25 Laurel will host the Class A and Class C State Meets, held concurrently, while Bozeman does the same for Class B and Class AA.