BY CHAD DARE
Seniors Jelani Day and Aaron Hardimon knew it was special just representing Danville High at the inaugural John Eakle Invitational.
Not only was it going to be their only home outdoor invitational meet in their high school careers, but the meet was honoring the school’s hall of fame coach.
“To represent DHS at the John Eakle Invitational, it’s great because of everything he did for my mentors in this sport,’’ said Day, as Eakle was the coach for Danville boys coaches Steve Luke, Todd Orvis, Carl Long, Doug Hummer.
And according to coach Eakle, who came to Danville in 1968, “this is the first invitational here in Danville in more than 50 years.’’
So for Day and Hardimon, being a part of five event victories was a very special accomplishment.
“It’s pretty cool to win an event at the invitational on our home track,’’ said Hardimon, who won both the shot put (45 feet, 8 inches) and the discus (122-4). “But, for it also to be in the meet that is named after a hall of fame coach from our school — that makes it even more special.’’
Steve Luke, who said earlier this week that this invitational was just a small token of his gratitude to coach Eakle, said that Saturday was a great day for everyone involved.
“For this being our first big meet here — it was a great first meet,’’ he said. “We had some really good competition and I was really proud of the effort that our kids put out there.’’
And the Vikings put on a pretty good show for the hometown fans.
Danville won 10 of the 18 varsity events in the meet.
“As a team, we did great,’’ said Day, who won the 400-meter dash and ran legs on the Vikings winning 1,600 and 3,200 relay teams. “We had some great accomplishments, but we still have more to work to do. As the season is winding down, I think we are going to get there.
“This was a chance for us to show Danville that we’re a pretty good track team.’’
And Hardimon acknowledged that being in front of family and friends for the first time in an invitational format was a driving force for him.
“This was a chance to show everyone our talents, and it was a great feeling having their support behind us,’’ he said. “And with this being an inaugural event, I can say that I’m the record holder.’’
It’s an honor that he and all of the other champions will hold for at least one year.
“That’s something that I hadn’t thought about,’’ Steve Luke said. “Aaron getting those wins is something that we haven’t had around here since the days of Cameron Ford and Keith Mayfield.’’
Luke gave credit to first-year coach Tyler Arnholt.
“He is getting through to those kids,’’ Luke said. “We not only got Aaron coming around, but we also got some young kids that are making strides.’’
And one of the guys on the Danville team that has made some really big strides of his own this year is Johnny Leverenz.
The junior has added a new event this season — the 800 — and Leverenz currently holds the third fastest time (1 minute, 56.72 seconds) in the state.
“Yeah, definitely it’s a new event for me, and its working out pretty well,’’ said Leverenz, who won the 800, the 1,600 and ran a leg on the Vikings winning 1,600 relay team. “I’ve always ran the 4-by-800 relay and I’ve been pretty good at it. But I had never run the open 800 until this year.’’
And while his time on Saturday of 2:00.19 was not his best in the 800, Leverenz capped his day with his fastest 400 in the 1,600 relay.
“Well, getting three first-place finishes is always a good thing,’’ he said. “But, running my personal best in the 4-by-400 was great. It was a pretty close race, and I wanted to make sure that I gave my team a good lead.’’
The Vikings went on to win that race by three seconds over Thornton Fractional North and Luke said that Leverenz is running that event for two reasons.
“That’s one of the things we’ve been looking at for him, to increase his foot speed and be able to finish his races stronger,’’ Luke said. “And that’s one of those races that he loves to run.’’
And for the Danville boys, Saturday’s meet was practice run before the Big 12 Conference Meet is held at the Wayland-Youth Athletic Facility on May 9.
“We are trying to do all that we can to keep our title,’’ said Hardimon as the Vikings earned the 2012 Big 12 title at the Harold Jaster track in Champaign. “We know that the community, just like they did today, is going to come out to support us.’’