Kennedy High’s head track coach Carl Sumler knew his girls’ 4×100 relay team, and sprint hotshot Takkarist McKinnley would need quick and easy access to physiological energy reserves when they lined up against the nation’s best runners last weekend in Los Angeles. So before they jumped in their vans and headed south down Interstate 5, Sumler went out and stockpiled his suitcase with Oreos, chocolate chips, fruit juices, noodles, salami, mustard and cheese. The sugar rush worked, as the girls finished first in both the 3rd Annual Tiger Invite at South Pasadena High School, and the 46th Annual Arcadia Invitational at Arcadia High School, while McKinnley brought home Arcadia gold in the boy’s 200-meter dash by running a personal record 21.90 seconds.
Sumler said that was his third time taking a relay team to Los Angeles, but that bringing home medals was worth the wait. “I was more excited than they were,” he said about their first-place finishes. “Before the race I gave them a heated speech to get them all fired up. And at the end I was their biggest cheerleader. Nothing is going to be tougher than Arcadia.”
More than 600 schools from over 30 states participated in the track and field event.
“It was so loud and crowded in there—everybody was so hyped up I couldn’t help but be nervous,” junior Alesia Miles said about her first experience at the famed track meet. “Because it’s my first year running I felt like it all depended on me to try and get everything there.”
La Dejah Dillard took a different approach. “I wasn’t thinking about the competition,” she said. “I just worried about me and my teammates. If I start thinking about other teams then it makes me nervous. So I just focused on us and it was good.”
The Lady Eagles finished their open division race with a time of 49.62 seconds. According to Sumler that’s the third best time in the north coast. In the speedier invitational heat, a team from Florida, Boyd Anderson High, crossed the finish line almost four seconds faster.
Sumler said his squad could have shaved a second off their time if they hadn’t run a “safe race.” But in order to make sure they got the stick around the track, he instructed them to “run up on the back of the other” instead of exchanging the baton at full speed. “They grew up that day,” he said about his young team. “To me [last weekend] was when they finally gelled as a team. Now they have confidence because they [placed first] in back-to-back meets.”
But the show of the day may have belonged to 100-meter sprinter Takkarist McKinnley had he not disqualified himself by jumping the gun. The brawny football specialist lined up shoulder-to-shoulder with the nation’s fastest runners, including Khalfani Muhammad of Notre Dame High School. Muhammad went on to finish the race with the third fastest time in the country.
Sumler said it was like two prized bullfighters when McKinnley and Muhammad stepped up to the starting line. “It was hyped up,” he said. “The announcer said Takk was the winner of the Stanford Invitational and that Muhammad was the two-time state runner champion. The only thing he didn’t say was ‘Let’s get ready to rumble.’”
McKinnley said he tried to time the gun because he wasn’t confident of his feet coming off of the blocks. “They all got good starts,” he said of his competitors. “So I was like, ‘Man you know what? I got nothing to lose. I’m not supposed to be in this race anyway—I’m a defensive end. I’m about to time it. I’m about to get this.’”
But in the end McKinnley’s strategy didn’t work. He’ll have to wait for state to see which comes first: thunder or lightning?