SHIPPENSBURG, Pa. — Seconds before she resumed her assault on the all-time PIAA track and field record book, Thelma Davies flashed the grin that has always been followed by gold.
“And in Lane No. 4, Thelma Davies, Girard College, Pa. No. 1 all-time, the fastest girl in Pennsylvania history in the 100-meter dash,” the public address announcer explained Saturday afternoon at the track and field championships.
Standing in front of her starting blocks just ahead of the girls’ Class AA 100, Davies smiled and waved to applause from the near-packed grandstand at Shippensburg University.
By day’s end, Davies, who also claimed the 200-meter crown, became the first person to win two PIAA championships four years in a row, according to PIAA records.
“I’m happy,” Davies said after the 100. “Every time I step on the track, I’m happy. Every time I come out here, you’ll see a smile on my face because four years ago, I wasn’t thinking about this. I didn’t even know track was a sport about five years ago, so just having this title, enjoying the crowd, having people look up to me, parents coming to me and telling me they’re proud, my family being proud, every thing, altogether, makes me happy. It makes me want to do more.”
Hair a hue similar to fire, Davies started slowly in the 100-meter dash and was behind at least two runners about 20 meters into the race before she turned up the heat.
About 20 minutes earlier, Davies, who will compete at Louisiana State University next season, was literally on ice.
Lingering soreness in her left quad prompted Davies to have her left leg wrapped in ice.
“I’m held together by ice, tape and Icy Hot,” she joked before the race.
Lingering hip, groin and shin issues combined with a poor start and her opponents’ desire provided a more interesting-than-usual race for spectators.
It was also more fun for Davies, who finished the race in 11.87 seconds. Maddie Raymond, a sophomore from District 7’s South Park, finished second at 12.36.
“I loved it,” said Davies, who dyed her hair red for “something new.”
“I love getting pushed because that’s when my adrenaline starts flowing more and I’m like, ‘Ok, I have to push, pump my arms more.’”
The increased competitiveness, she said, will hopefully prepare her for New Balance Outdoor nationals, June 14 in Greensboro, N.C.
Davies (23.74) won the 200 in less dramatic fashion, cruising comfortably ahead of Neumann-Goretti junior MyKala Perry (24.72), who had set a new meet record in the AA 400 earlier in the day (54.50).
When asked to reflect upon her own record-breaking track journey, Davies smiled again, this time with emotion in her eyes.
In 2014, Rick Leek, the man who introduced Davies to track in eighth grade and a longtime teacher and coach at Girard College, died after a sudden heart attack. In 2015, her beloved grandmother, Anna Johnson, died about four months after being diagnosed with cancer.
In 2016, she connected with her current coach, Diamond Woolford, who starred on the track at Girard College (1999) and was coached by Leek.
Last season, she was diagnosed with erythema multiforme, a hypersensitivity disorder affecting mostly children and young adults and characterized by patchy lesions primarily on the arms and legs, according to the National Organization for Rare Disorders.
“It makes me want to cry sometimes,” Davies said. “It’s just a great blessing. I grew up in the church. The pastor would preach about people’s gifts. Growing up, I would always wonder, ‘what was my gift?’ And then I found Mr. Leek and that pushed me toward Diamond. Everything happened for a reason...I’m pretty blessed and I’m just happy that it all worked out that way.”
If Jason Kelce didn’t make it clear during his famous “hungry dogs run faster” speech during the Eagles 2017 Super Bowl parade, a dog’s perceived toughness makes for good motivation for athletes of all ages.
At Saturday afternoon’s track and field championships, Motivation Charter senior Nasir Savage — also a talented football player for Bartram — barked at anybody who would listen after his 4x100 relay team knocked off presumed favorites and finally grabbed the gold that eluded his team for years.
“We’re dogs! We’re dogs! We practice on gravel! We got that dog in us,” he yelled on the infield after the boys’ AA championship race.
Because his school doesn’t have a track, Savage said, his relay teammates practiced at Pennwood in Yeadon, which is not far from Motivation’s Southwest Philadelphia campus.
“We jog 1.5 miles to Pennwood just to get there to practice,” Savage said. “We don’t get a bus ride. We jog...”
Pennwood’s track, he said, is gravel-based, which, he added, made practice more challenging.
“So we jog from Southwest Philly to Pennwood just to practice. We don’t get there and complain because it’s on gravel. We’re out there and we do the workouts. We don’t complain. You gotta have that dog mentality. That’s why I kept saying, ‘we some dogs,’ because we went out there and did it. We did what people thought we wouldn’t do. We came in here and people were writing us off...”
Motivation finished with a new team-record of 41.98, with three Bartram football players (Motivation doesn’t offer football) as the first three legs.
Freshman Titus David ran the lead leg (running back), senior Nasir McCrae-Dixon (receiver) ran second, Savage (defensive back) ran third and junior Laminu Abbas was the anchor.
Three school’s, District 9’s Brookville, District 4’s Southern Columbia and District 7’s Aliquippa, each entered with faster qualifying times.
Brookville came in as the top-dog. Southern Columbia also featured junior football standout and 3-time state football champion Julian Fleming, the No. 1 ranked wide receiver in the state, according to Rivals.com.
Brookville finished second at 42.04, while Aliquippa (42.91) took third and Southern Columbia (43.32) finished fifth.
Motivation didn’t even make it to the finals when Savage, who will play football at Kutztown, was a freshman. As a sophomore, his team had the lead going into the last 100 meters, but finished second. Last year, injuries, including his own, led to a third-place finish.
This season, nothing would stop Savage and Co. from capturing the 4x100 gold medals slung around each of their necks. Not even Friday’s 4x400 preliminaries, which Savage said, he purposefully false-started as the lead-leg to preserve his teammates, who had agreed to the move before the race.
“It hurt my pride a little bit,” Savage explained, as his teammates nodded their heads.
“It was all because of this,” said the Lackawanna College-bound McCrae-Dixon, lifting his gold medal in the air. “We wanted this one.”
During the celebratory leg of the boys’ 4x800 AAA finale, one of the four variously mustachioed seniors from Central Bucks West let others on the infield at Shippensburg know what season it was.
“It’s ‘stache season, baby,” yelled the first-leg, Owen Shields, as he hugged the anchor-leg, Blake Ewaskey, both of whom were sporting artificially darkened, but thick, mustaches.
Ewaskey, who will run at the University of Tennessee next season, helped the Bucks finish their come-from-behind victory in 7:42.52. Radnor took second at 7:43.48, while Pennridge claimed third at 7:46.00.
The win marked the third straight season of 4x800 gold for C.B. West.
“There aren’t many words to describe this feeling,” said Shields, who will compete in football and track at Catholic University.
Later, he added: “Hard work does pay off. That’s all I have to say. I’m just grateful for my coaches and the program I’m in.”
Shields got the Bucks off to a strong start, while Christian Crabtree fell behind but stayed close enough to pass the baton to Luke Fehrman, who closed the gap on Pennridge, which had jumped out to about a 40-meter lead.
Ewaskey made his move on the second lap, taking the lead for good with about 150 meters left.
During indoor track season in the winter, Ewaskey said that he came across Craig Engels, a track athlete at the University of Mississippi, on Instagram.
Engels, Ewaskey said, donned a mullet and mustache during big races. Mustaches, of course, became good luck charms for C.B. West.
It took Ewaskey a week to grow his, but it was extremely blonde so he had to dye it to make it recognizable, he said.
Shields’s took two weeks to grow, but also required dye, he said.
Fuzz typically seen on a peach is likely the best description of what Fehrman and Crabtree (St. Joseph’s University) grew below their noses.
“We didn’t necessarily all have the mullets, but some of us pulled off the mustaches,” said Fehrman, who was a member of all three 4x800 state championship teams at C.B. West.
“I couldn’t think of any other way to end my senior year in the 4x800,” Fehrman added.
Later, Crabtree, smiled and added: “Let’s just say, these are my boys.”
As Coatesville’s Dymere Miller crossed the finish line in the AAA boys’ 4x100 finals, the senior put his right index finger to his mouth in a gesture that suggested silence.
The event was highly anticipated and talked about on social media, especially after last week when Central Dauphin East (41.10) broke Harrisburg’s all-time mark from 1998 (41.14).
On Saturday, the Coatesville squad, full of football players, countered over the top, setting an even newer all-time mark at 40.99 seconds.
“I just had to let them know,” said Miller of his “hush” gesture. “I had to let them know it wasn’t about the hype. We just came to run.”
When asked who he was referring to, the receiver and defensive back added, “everybody that’s here. Everybody that thought we were going down.”
The Coatesville squad was the same team that was the top American finisher at the Penn Relays.
Aaron Young (Rutgers), Eric Kirk (Shippensburg) and junior Dapree Bryant ran with Miller, who will attend Salisbury Prep in Connecticut next year.