With so much running and jumping going on at the same time in the spirited three-ring circus atmosphere that is an indoor track meet, it’s sometimes hard to discern exactly what the main event is.
That was the case for much of Wednesday night’s Section XI (Suffolk County) Championships at Suffolk CC-Brentwood, which also served as a state qualifying meet. That is until Daniel Claxton of Smithtown East raised the bar for everyone else with one giant leap into the spotlight.
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Claxton, a junior, cleared 6-10 in the high jump, an achievement that not only set a meet record but also drew a thunderous, spontaneous roar from the crowd. Suddenly, all eyes were focused on the high jump pit inside the track’s blue oval.
After breaking the record of 6-9¼ set by Pat McElroy of Shoreham-Wading River in 1991, Claxton took three cracks at 6-11. Before each of those jumps, as well as his record-breaker, a hush fell over the arena and rhythmic clapping accompanied of Claxton’s run up to the bar. What made the show of support so remarkable was that it came from competitors of dozens of schools, not just his Smithtown East teammates. And when he missed each of his three tries at 6-11, those same rivals-turned-rooters groaned along with the crowd.
“Yeah, everyone was supporting me. It was a great feeling,” said Claxton, whose previous best of 6-9 1 ¼ was set at last week’s county team championship meet. “Usually I like silence,” Claxton said, “until the last jump. Then I love the support from the crowd. I use it as encouragement.”
Claxton said the record height was a tantalizing target. “I’ve been attempting 6-10 for more than half the season, so this is very special for me,” he said. “That was my main goal coming into this meet.”
Because there were only two jumpers left when he joined the competition at 6-2, Claxton knew he had qualified for the state championship meet. “So I was very relaxed after that,” he said.
There was tension for some of the other winners and state qualifiers Wednesday night. Among the highlights were Infinite Tucker of Huntington running a personal best 7.41 in winning the 55-meter hurdles and teammate Kyree Johnson running the 55-meter dash in 6.45; Lucas Coulter of Riverhead winning the 600 in 1:22; Ryan Scanlon of Harborfields winning the 3,200 in 9:26.82, and Nick Beglane of Hauppauge winning the 1,000 meters in 2:34.18.
Beglane, a senior, quite literally got a big kick out of earning his first trip to the state meet. “It was a slow pace and kicking is my strong point so I knew I was in a good position,” Beglane said. He called second-place finisher and state qualifier Chris Tibbetts of Sachem North “a strong runner and great competitor. I knew it would be a hard race.”
The Sachem North runner, who finished in 2:34.88, moved ahead in Lap 3 before Beglane made his move. “With about 240 meters to go in the fourth lap, I kicked. I felt good and I knew I’d hold him off.”
After his triumph, Beglane ran toward his coach Bill Maida and jumped up to deliver a high-five. “He ran a strong race and he still has that much energy left?” Maida said with a smile. “He’s such a hard worker. This was his quest.”