OKEECHOBEE — The Hershey district track and field meet was more than three hours old and past lunch time for its young participants, but four girls from Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School still had enough fuel left to capture one of the day’s most exciting races.
Sixth-graders Jenna Brown, Janessa Nunez, Aubrey Pearce and Julia Smith combined to win the 4×100 meter relay in the girls 11-to-12-year-old division May 16 at the Okeechobee High School football and track stadium. By winning the race, the foursome qualified for the Hershey state meet June 21 at Ansin Sports Complex in Miramar. Eight other PECS students also qualified with first- or second-place finishes in their events.
The district meet featured hundreds of students ages 9-14 from schools throughout the Okeechobee region.
The PECS girls entered the homestretch of the 4×100 in second place, but Smith overtook the leader in the final few meters with a stirring sprint in front of bleachers filled with cheering athletes.
“The girl was ahead of me, but I didn’t want to lose. So I went faster,” Smith said.
The PECS girls said their strategy was to use their fastest runners for the first and final legs. The game plan paid off. Nunez put the team in front with a strong leadoff run. Brown and Pearce handled the second and third legs, respectively, and kept the team in the lead or close to it before Smith closed with her impressive dash. The winning time was 1 minute, 5 seconds.
Another key was all four runners made clean handoffs with the baton. The crisp exchanges came despite having limited practice. Their only previous run as a relay team was in the school meet earlier in the month when they provided a glimpse of what was to come.
“We had to go against the boys, and we still beat them,” Nunez said.
The relay victory wasn’t the only triumph for Smith, who had an outstanding day by winning all four events she entered. Smith’s other wins came in the 100- and 400-meter runs and the softball throw. She won the 100 in just under 15 seconds and the 400 in 1:18. She hurled the softball 137 feet, 4 inches.
Justin Gopher flashed plenty of speed on the track as he won the 400-meter run and finished runner-up in the 100-meter run in the boys 11-to-12 division.
PECS students also thrived in field events. Donovan Harris (11-to-12 boys), Lucas Osceola (13-to-14 boys) and Raeley Matthews (13-to-14 girls) won their softball throw competitions. Harris fired the ball 183 feet, 4 inches. Osceola launched it 222 feet, 2 inches. Matthews’ winning throw covered 175 feet, 7 inches. Chandler Pearce captured the 13-to-14 boys standing long jump with a leap of 95 inches.
The two youngest state qualifiers from PECS came in the 9-to-10 girls division. Angelie Melton finished second in the 50- and 100-meter runs. Ysla Meras was runner-up in the softball throw.
In order to reach the district meet, all participants had to finish first or second in their school meet. PECS held its meet May 5. Winners on the boys side included: Deagen Osceola, Creek Gopher, Justin Gopher, Jason Sampson, Gabe Williams, Kai Osceola, Morgan King, Dathan Garcia, Dalence Carrillo, Donte Thomas, Landon Goodwin, Ramone Baker, Lucas Osceola, Corey Jumper, Donovan Harris, Silas Madrigal and Alyke Baker. First-place finishers for the girls were: Angelie Melton, Julia Smith, Raeley Matthews, Tammy Martinez, LaShae King, Camryn Thomas, Aubrey Pearce, Jalynn Jones, Melina Steve, Sunni Bearden, Sydney Matthews, Ysla Meras, Janessa Nunez and Jenna Brown.
Hershey state qualifiers from PECS
Justin Gopher (11-12, 100 meter, 400 meter); Donovan Harris (11-12, softball throw); Chandler Pearce (13-14, standing long jump); Lucas Osceola (13-14, softball throw); Angelie Melton (9-10, 50 meter, 100 meter); Ysla Meras (9-10, softball throw); Julia Smith (11-12, 100 meter, 200 meter, 4×100 relay, softball throw); Aubrey Pearce (11-12, 4×100 relay); Janessa Nunez (11-12, 4×100 relay); Jenna Brown (11-12, 4×100 relay); Raeley Matthews (13-14, 200 meter, softball throw); Sunni Bearden (13-13, softball throw).
Note: Some long jump results were not available as of press time.