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Trinity Thomas looking to give Scott County Central a rare track title

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Scott County Central sophomore Trinity Thomas qualified for two events during Friday and Saturday's Class 1 state track and field tournament in Jefferson City, Mo.
(Chris Pobst/Standard Democrat)
SIKESTON -- Year after year, it seems like Scott County Central basketball flirts with sending another team to the state tournament. And why wouldn't it? The school sits with a state record 18 boys basketball championships and another seven in the girls with numerous trips to the postseason to boot.

But on Friday, a team that some outside of Scott County may not even be aware exists, will send an athlete to a different kind of state tournament.

Trinity Thomas became the first female athlete at SCC to qualify for the Class 1 state track and field meet since the team's inaugural season 10 years ago. She's one of just a handful of students who has made it this far for the school, who, despite a lack of great success on the track, has turned heads once at the state level.

Thomas will be running in both the 100 and 200-meter dashes on Friday at Adkins Stadium in Jefferson City, Mo. She finished within the top-4 in both events on Saturday during a sectional meet at Lutheran North High School to qualify for state.

"She's had an outstanding year on the track," SCC track coach Keyth Blissett said. "She's constantly cutting her time every single race."

Thomas, a sophomore, has ran track for the past two years. She had the opportunity to qualify for state last season as a freshman, but a death in the family meant she had to miss the sectional meet.

"This year she came back stronger and working harder," Blissett said.

Since then, Thomas and the rest of the SCC track team competed in local meets like the Eva G. Hinshaw Invitational in East Prairie, the Charleston Invitational and the Johnny Merrick Invitational at Kelly High School to prepare for the postseason.

Scott County Central's Trinity Thomas (right) trains with teammate Hannah Bode (left) around the SCC baseball field Wednesday, May 17, 2017.
(Chris Pobst/Standard Democrat)
With around 10 total schools at each of those events, who are most of the time bigger and more experienced than SCC, Thomas still kept pace with numerous top-3 finishes even without a home track to prepare.

She continued that trend into the district and sectional meets to become Scott Central's first individual female athlete to make the state competition.

"It's exciting," Thomas said. "It's a lot of work that goes into getting here."

Thomas, who is also a starter for the girls basketball team, says she's improved a lot over the course of the season after watching her times shorten each outing. That was never more evident than on Saturday when the sophomore posted her personal best in the 200 for a second-place finish with a time of 26.91 seconds. She also placed fourth in the 100 with a 13.18.

If Thomas had her way, she'd solely run the 200. She doesn't care for the shorter 100-meter dash.

"I just like the curve and then the straight because it gives me a longer distance," Thomas said. "I mean, I can run the 100, I just don't choose to like it. It's kind of short."

But Thomas may not have had the opportunity to reach state if it wasn't for a former basketball coach looking for ways to improve his team.

The beginning of a program

When David Heeb took over the SCC boys basketball program in the summer of 2005, he searched all ways to make his players faster, stronger and, overall, more athletic. In the spring of 2007, Scott Central had their very own track team.

"I thought it would make our basketball program better," said Heeb. "I thought it would make guys quicker and jump higher. Honestly, that was my main reason... They all did get more athletic."

The boys basketball team burst on the scene as dual-sport athletes. With the likes of D.D. Gillespie, Caleb Johnson, Drew Thomas, Randy Timmons and Jarron Banks, they immediately made an impact in track, led by Gillespie.

Gillespie qualified for state in three individual events in 2007 and made it to the finals in the 100, 200 and 400 meters. Overall, 13 kids qualified for state in SCC's inaugural track season where they had four all-state finishes.

Five more qualified in 2008 when they won two individual state championships in the 400 and the 4x200 relay, which is a rare feat for a newfound program full of athletes who had never participated in track before.

Sometimes they even had to learn on the fly.

"We didn't have a track to practice on and we had no idea what we were doing," Heeb said. "Trey Porter, who was a senior at Malden at the time, he taught us how to hand off the batons in relay races. A kid from East Prairie taught [Johnson] how to high jump at the first meet we went to. Caleb decided to try it and ended up going to state. It was a lot of fun."

Gillespie won a state title in the 400 and was part of another championship with the 4x200 relay team. Gillespie, Thomas, Timmons and Banks, who also qualified for state in both the 110 and 300 hurdles, won Scott Central's first-ever state championship in the 800-meter relay.

"The best thing about track was it gave other kids like Jarron Banks a way to shine," Heeb said. "He was a great kid who wasn't a star basketball player, but he ended up going to state in the hurdles. That was an awesome group of kids and they were really athletic."

That carried over to the girls side as well.

Scott Central sent both their 4x100 and 4x200 girls relay teams to state that first year too. The 4x200 relay team -- made up of a mixture of Brittney Peet, Samantha Jones, Brianna 'Missy' Johnson, Brooke Peet, Monae Johnson, Iesha Turner and JoVonne Banks -- had the best chance at winning a championship coming in with one of the fastest times in Class 1, but wouldn't get the chance to run in the finals with their top sprinters after an unorthodox situation arose.

Two girls had to miss the preliminaries because SCC's graduation was scheduled the same day and one of their alternates quit the team just days before the state meet. That left the team to run the preliminaries with three new members, who finished 10th -- two spots away from qualifying. They also finished 15th in the 4x100.

"Had we ran with just one of those girls we would have qualified even without our two fastest there," Heeb said. "They would have showed up the next day and would've lapped teams."

After that, SCC's girls team failed to send another athlete to the state meet, until Thomas' performance during Saturday's sectional.

No track, no problem

Scott County Central doesn't have a track to call their own. They don't have a jumping pit or hurdles or pretty much anything else that typical track and field teams can take advantage of.

But what they do have is a lot of space.

Scott County Central's Trinity Thomas (right) trains with teammate Hannah Bode (left) around the SCC baseball field Wednesday, May 17, 2017.
(Chris Pobst/Standard Democrat)
On the edge of Highway 61 between Morley and Sikeston, sits SCC, alone and surrounded by nothing but fields of cotton, corn or whatever the local farmer chooses to plant. Behind Scott Central rests playground equipment for the elementary school, a fence-less softball field and a baseball field, who's fence doubles as a walking track.

That's where most of SCC's track practices take place.

"There's open space and you just have to have an imagination," Blissett said. "You tape off a hundred yards and have a lot of open space to make it work."

Thomas, along with teammate Hannah Bode, ran from foul pole to foul pole outside of the baseball fence during their practice on Wednesday. Blissett stood on one end with a stopwatch and hand motions to his runners signaled when it was time for them to take off.

"The baseball field is marked for walking -- four laps is a mile -- so, we use that same method with our running," Blissett said. "The curve in the outfield fence is our track curve and it's around 200 meters. You use that as our curve and left field and right field as your straights. It's just having an imagination and asking ourselves, 'how can we make this work.' We have kids that want to participate so it goes back to if there's a will, we'll figure it out."

The team, like SCC's student body, is small. They have six members and are limited to what events they can actually train for. For running events, they simply running around the baseball field.

"It's not level ground with pot holes, mole holes and just uneven ground," Thomas said. "I know everybody else probably has a track to run on...I'm definitely faster on a track. Dirt is kind of tricky to run on sometimes."

Thomas, Bode, Keyth Blissett Jr., Eric Smith, Alexis Williams and Daymon Rossignal make up SCC's 2017 track team. Bode was the only other member who had a chance to make state but missed out in the long jump, finishing seventh during sectionals.

"All of these guys came together to make the team and they pushed each other," Blissett said. "They all just have tremendous work ethics and don't complain about anything. They just come out and get the work done."

State competition

Thomas' best shot at a state championship is in the 200. Based on sectional qualifying times, she's ranked third out of the 16 state qualifiers.

Last year's state champion -- Dora's Ashlynn Vanatter -- has the top time of 26.22. Barat Academy's Addie Grapperhaus narrowly beat out Thomas during Saturday's sectional with a 26.32. Thomas finished at 26.91 for a third-place ranking.

But to make the final championship round in Jefferson City, Thomas must finish in the top-8 after a round of preliminaries.

"It's going to take heart," Blissett said. "She's in there with them. Those other girls have the experience and have been there before, so she's just going to have to forget about the butterflies and look at it as being behind the school and just running. She's capable of running with them and her times prove that. When everybody is that tight together, it's just heart and determination and she has a lot of that."

In the 100, Thomas is ranked sixth with a time of 13.18, which would still be considered an all-state finish.

Grapperhaus is ranked first at 12.66, while Khristen Bryant, from Columbia Independent, is the returning champion at 12.81 for third. The three other competitors are all within 0.17 seconds of Thomas in a race that often comes down to the one hundredths of a second.

"Anything could happen up there," Blissett said. "I know she doesn't necessarily like the 100, but she understands that should something go wrong we don't put everything on the 200. Plus, she's good at it."

With a chance to bring back SCC's third state track championship and a first for the girls, Thomas' key to a victory was a simple one.

"Just keep pushing."