JEROME – This year’s Tim Dunne Invitational lacked a familiar sea of maroon and gold. Rigby High School, which dominated the boys and girls sides of last year’s track meet, was absent from the 2017 edition of the Tim Dunne.
The Twin Falls boys and girls teams each finished second to Rigby at last year’s invitational. Some Twin Falls runners yearned for the extra dose of competition only the Trojans could provide. Not Bruins coach Marty Grindstaff.
“We don’t miss Rigby,” he said with a laugh.
Twin took advantage of Rigby’s absence by winning the boys and girls titles at Friday’s 11-team meet held at Jerome High School. The Bruins’ strong showing featured a handful of back-to-back winners and a bevy of new gold medalists.
“We’re pretty deep. We cover a lot of events, and that’s what you need to do to be competitive at state,” Grindstaff said. “We should definitely be in the trophy hunt.”
Twin’s toughest competition Friday came from eastern Idaho schools, but they were nowhere near the level of Rigby. The Twin girls outscored second-place Highland 199.7 to 107.5. The boys finished with 164.5 points, 47.25 clear of runner-up Hillcrest.
The Bruin girls finished with gold medals in nine of the 18 total events: 200 meters (junior Ashley Hutchinson), 400 (Hutchinson), 800 (junior Kami Withers), 1600 (senior Haley Schaeffer), 3200 (Schaeffer), 300 hurdles (senior Brianna Starley), long jump (Starley) 4x400 relay and medley relay.
The boys also won nine events: 100 meters (junior Muamer Mujic), 800 (junior Cache Traveller), 1600 (freshman Josh Bell), 3200 (Cannon Leavitt), high jump (junior Reese Asson), triple jump (senior Derek Christensen), 4x100 relay, 4x200 relay and 4x400 relay.
Three of Twin’s track athletes defended their Tim Dunne titles. Christensen was last year’s triple jump winner, Leavitt won the 3200 and Schaeffer took gold in the 1600. That win felt especially good to Schaeffer because Preston’s Billie Hatch upended her in the 3200. This year, she got both.
“I’ve been good in 32, so winning the 16 made it better for me,” Schaeffer said.
The event featured three more non-Bruin local winners: Wood River junior Stella Barsotti (high jump), Mincio senior Wyatt Owen (300-meter hurdles) and Kimberly senior Zach Wright (110-meter hurdles).
Despite having no state championship-level competition, like a Rigby, to challenge Twin Falls, the Bruins’ domination of Friday’s event gives them confidence going into the stretch run.
“The times are really good this early in the year, and the distances,” Grindstaff said. “Pretty encouraging.”
Another piece of encouragement for the Bruins: Rigby now competes in 5A.
Jerome honors late sprinter
Immediately following the boys 4x100 relay, the Tim Dunne Invite announcer asked for a moment of silence. Jerome’s 4x100 team walked on the south side of the track carrying a single baton.
The four Jerome sprinters – Byron Bailey, Joey Lenker, Clay Miller and Brandon Pilkenton – placed the baton on the starting line of the second relay leg. They crouched over the baton, draped their arms over one other and said a silent prayer. Moments later, they broke down and cried on the infield grass.
The moment was a mini-memorial. Jerome’s second leg of the 4x100 team last year was Baily Helsley, who died in car crash on June 20. The four sprinters decided that Friday’s meet – the second event they have participated in this spring – was a fitting place to honor their teammate gone too soon.
“I didn’t think it was gonna be that hard until we got about halfway around that curve,” Miller said.
“We knew it was coming, but we didn’t know it would be a moment that special until it actually happened.”
Lenker was the third leg of the relay on Friday, just as he was last season. Miller returned this season as the 4x100 anchor, and Bailey was the first leg.
Pilkenton was in a new role. He replaced Helsley as the second leg this season, and that’s where he ran Friday.
“You kinda feel like you’re not worthy enough, you’re not able to step in those shoes you’re supposed to fill,” Pilkenton said.
Jerome’s 2016 Tim Dunne relay team – which featured Helsley, Miller, Jahmal Ismail and Winston Sanchez – finished third. The Tigers’ relay team also finished third on Friday, despite being slotted in the first lane, which Lenker said was the seventh slowest position.
“That really shows you how much he meant to us,” Lenker said.
Even in the track community, Helsley’s speed stood out. It earned him the nickname “Flash”, which the four 4x100 members inked into their cleats Friday.
The 4x100 sprinters don’t know how, but they held it together until after they said “Amen” and rose from their crouches. Helsley’s mother, Stephanie, and sister, Camron, stood on the infield grass during the ceremony. A tearful Stephanie greeted the four after the moment of silence ended with hugs and thanks. That’s when the runners’ tears began to flow.
Helsley’s speed was hardly his most memorable trait. His sense of humor and kindness stuck with those who knew him best.
“He always tried to make sure everybody was happy,” Stephanie said. “He was a really good kid.”