BY AARON PATTERSON
It almost seemed like a formality, waiting for the official results to be read over the public address system at the Vermilion County Boys Track and Field meet in Catlin. The Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman Buffaloes finished a full 53 points ahead of second place and host Salt Fork marking the fourth time since 2008, and the 12th time in the co-op’s 14 years that the Buffaloes have finished on top at the meet.
But this year’s victory lap might have meant a little more to the Buffaloes, and the congratulatory exchanges with coach Tom Kulbartz following the final lap helped explain the emotions that flowed throughout the team.
In October, Kulbartz’s wife, Linda, passed away, and it was the first major team win for the Buffaloes without “Mrs. Coach” on the sidelines.
“I’ve grown up (around the program) since my sister was in high school six or seven years ago and have known Mrs. Coach,” Buffaloes junior Wyatt Avenatti said. “This past fall she passed away. It hit our whole family pretty hard. She’s just always been like a statue of honor to us. She was always there encouraging us to do better. She just made everybody’s life that much better.
“Some kids were wearing yellow wrist bands today, and that was her favorite color so we were trying to do that for coach. It just meant so much to us. We just all severely miss her. She just always made everything more fun for us.”
If the meet was competed in her honor, Mrs. Coach was likely smiling the entire meet as GRFC carried on the tradition it so frequently speaks of.
With only one senior on the team, the Buffaloes didn’t back down and even picked up points where Tom Kulbartz wasn’t certain they would. The youth shined through specifically in the field events where freshman Tyler Owen won both the high jump (six feet) and triple jump (38 feet, two inches), and sophomore Keenan Butler won the long jump with a leap of 20 feet, four inches.
“We talk about pride and tradition, and we define what they are,” Tom Kulbartz said. “We tell them, ‘Now it’s your turn to add to this pride and tradition.’ For as young a team as we have, we did exceptionally well. They performed like veterans today. It was awesome. We picked up a lot of points that I didn’t think we were going to get, and they were from young kids.”
Not only did the Buffaloes win the meet, they snapped Hoopeston Area’s streak of four consecutive wins in the 1,600 meter relay. One of the team’s fastest runners, Butler, was even pulled from the event in order to secure points in the 400.
Kade Hollinsworth, Andy Nicholson, Lane Avenatti, and Wyatt Avenatti finished the relay in 3:46.84. Hollinsworth also took first in the 800 relay (1:36.59) with teammates Shawn Reed, Skyler Reed, and Tyson Reed.
The Buffaloes helped secure their team title with 12 additional second- or third-place finishes. Salt Fork tied GRFC with six first-place finishes including two individual wins from Taylor Kirby (300 hurdles and 110 hurdles), two by Nick Hedges (200 and 100), and the 400 relay team of Kirby, Seth McLain, Luke Maddox, and Hedges.
Alec Dutton picked up Salt Fork’s first win of the day when he broke the Vermilion County meet record in discus with a toss of 167 feet, 3 1/2 inches. Winning the event might not have been a total surprise, as it was the third year in a row he has secured the discus title. He was, however, initially in disbelief when he learned he had set the new mark.
“Honestly, I wasn’t even sure that I broke it,” said Dutton, whose previous personal best was 163-10. “Everyone told me that I did, and I was like, ‘There’s no way I broke it.’ When he finally called out the measurement, I was pretty excited that I actually broke it.”
Dutton finished second in the shot put behind Westville’s Nick Woods. Oakwood’s 3,200 relay team of Emerson Grey, Brian Rice, Jon Davis, and Brandon Snyder took first ahead of GRFC, while Davis also won both the 800 and 1,600 meter runs.
The Storm have not won the Vermilion County meet since 2010, and after finishing in second place have new motivation going into the upcoming Vermilion Valley Conference meet which is also schedule to take place in Catlin.
“I know some of us are mad, especially on the relay when we got disqualified,” Dutton said. “There are some points that we left out there that we definitely feel like we should have had. I think when it comes down to it, we’re going to definitely be more focused going into conference and try to pick it up.”