With spring comes a full schedule of track and field and — sometimes — unruly weather.
Many times, a rain-induced washout of an event comes as a respite for tired athletes, but there is one event on the calendar that Mother Nature can’t stand in the way of.
After rain postponed last Friday’s competition, teams from 11 schools reconvened Thursday at Statesboro High for the 9th annual Plankenhorn Invitational, hosted by Southeast Bulloch. The namesake of the meet is former SEB runner Derrick Plankenhorn, who died in 2003. Since then, his school has hosted the event to celebrate both his life and the sport he loved – something that no rain clouds can wash away.
With teams from all around the region in competition, a pair of local schools fared well for themselves as the Statesboro boys and girls swept the first place titles and the SEB girls finished in second place.
The event served as good competition for teams that are gearing up for their respective region meets and April’s state competition, but everyone was also well aware of the larger meaning behind the trophies and medals.
"It was great to see so many teams willing to come out on a school night," SEB coach Jolie Brit said. "While I never got a chance to coach Derrick, I know how much this event means to his parents, the school and our whole community."
"It’s very humbling that (Southeast Bulloch) thinks so much of him that they hold this event each year," Billie Jean Plankenhorn, Derrick’s mother, said. "Over the years, so many schools have come to us and said how much they enjoy participating in this event. It’s always very special to know that."
Primed for another run at the Region 2-AAAA title, the boys and girls of Statesboro were on top of their game. Both recorded dominating victories as the boys’ 168 points was well ahead of second place Bradwell Institute’s 125 and the Lady Devils’ 186.5 points was well clear of SEB’s 133.
"This is an event that we really wanted to perform well in," SHS coach Rico Campbell said. "Not only was there a lot of good competition, but there were also some teams that we’ll see again at the region meet. It’s always good to see how we stack up."
The Devils stacked up just fine, getting notable first place performances from Shanice Walker (300 meter hurdles), Amber Connelly (pole vault), Shanikwa Buie (shot put), Aneisha Drummer (100 hurdles) and the 4x100 meter relay team on the girls’ side. For the boys, Freddie Burden took down the shot put while the 4x100 relay team took the crown and Courtney Reese swept both the 100 and 300 meter hurdle events.
The Lady Yellow Jackets were also all over the leaderboard.
Philicia Batton continued her dominance in the high jump for a first place finish and Breanna Gates taking the 100 and 200 meter sprints. With SHS leading the way in many events, SEB was often just behind. Kaitlyn Sullivan finished second on the pole vault and both the 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams (both consisting of Gates, Nira Byrd, Katie Neville and Jasmine Roberts) were hot on the Devils’ heels.
"Overall, I was very pleased," Britt said. "We’ve been performing well all year. We ran up against some very talented teams, but we still put up good numbers. Hopefully, this will be another good experience to draw on at the end of the season."
Both Statesboro and Southeast Bulloch will be in action again at the Statesboro Relays April 13 before competing in their respective region meets.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.