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Portal track and field building a foundation

    Approaching Saturday’s Plankenhorn invitational — Southeast Bulloch’s annual track meet participated in by teams from all over southeast Georgia and all GHSA classifications — the Portal Panthers are pleased with the way their program is coming together.
    Not having the large number of athletes many larger schools enjoy, PHS looks at the meet as an opportunity to improve individually with the Region 3-A tournament on the horizon.
    “Fifteen very strong track programs from south Georgia will be (at the Plankenhorn),” said Panther coach Justin Chester. “At Portal, all we can do is encourage each kid to do their personal best.
    “We should be peaking right now. We’re only a couple of weeks away from (the region championships) and we want every kid to be at their best. If we can come away on Saturday adding some personal records, I’ll be satisfied.”
    Portal has been putting a lot of focus on its track program. While it has grown competitive in the field and speed events, the team doesn’t have the runners to put on the track in the distance races.
    “We have some standouts that are doing a great job in some of the field events,” Chester said. “We’re fortunate to have a group of young people who are good in the shorter (races). I guess the part that really hurts us in terms of being a small school is having a large group to participate in the middle — and long-distance races. That’s kind of where we’re struggling right now.”
    The team tried to address the issue by fielding a cross-country team in the fall, but it didn’t work out the way it had hoped.
    “We tried to have a cross-country team back in the fall, and we weren’t able to do that because we did not have enough participation,” said Chester. “If we could somehow work that angle to build our cross country up, I feel like those athletes would be able to run track in the spring. That way we’ll be a little more balanced all across the board.”
    The school is taking steps toward improvement.
    Portal Middle School coach Rob Lindsey has worked on getting the middle school athletes ready from the high school level.
    “We have 33 athletes in grades six through eight that are coming to high school, so we’re taking baby steps in the right direction in terms of building a track program,” Chester said.
    For right now, however, the Panthers have managed to remain competitive across the board.
    Justin Raymond, who won the high jump at last year’s Plankenhorn after he cleared the bar at 6-foot-2, set a new personal best at Wednesday’s meet at SEB. He won the event with a jump of 6-foot-4.
    Chester has also been pleased with the contributions of some of the younger athletes. Freshmen Devon Spells and Tony Mikell and sophomore Casey Ware have all added to the team’s success.
    “I’ve got some freshmen that are doing an outstanding job,” said the Portal coach, “doing this just to kind of stay in shape for football.”
    The young football players aren’t the only ones staying in shape competing in spring track.
    Said Chester: “I have to say old reliable Travis Budgett – you can always count on him to do anything you ask him to.”
    Budgett competes in the 400-meter and the 1600m and 400-meter relays.
    For the girls, sprinter Jalesia Coleman stands out in the sprints, and Katherine Minsey has stood out in the 400-meter run and the 100-meter hurdles
    The relays are one of the strongest point-generators for the Panthers. Chase Sherffield, Joseph Ware and Raymond and his brother Johnny lead the 400m relay.
    “I feel as though our team is very strong in the four-by- 100 relay. We’re pretty quick, both on the girls and the boys side.
    “We’re doing a good job there, and that’s one of the strengths of our team. If we can continue to do well there, and we can improve in the mile relay — the four-by-400 — and get two teams that can do well there, and they can continue to improve their times week-to-week like they have been, I feel like we can make some noise by the time region rolls around.”

    Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9404.

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