By JAMIE BAKER
COLUMBUS -- All day long Bluffton senior John Guagenti was wondering where the competitors from Gates Mills Gilmour Academy were finishing.
That’s because in Guagenti’s four races at Saturday’s OHSAA state track and field championships the competition, including Gilmour Academy, was always chasing him.
Guagenti put together one of the top Ohio prep boys track performances of all time as he came away with four victories to lead Bluffton to its first state track and field team title in the school’s long and storied history in the sport Saturday at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.
The Pirates scored 54 points to top runner-up Gilmour Academy 54-40 for the Division III boys team title. It was a fitting send off for coach Steve Bruskotter, who will retire after this season. In his 32 seasons as head track coach at the school, his teams took home the boys state runner-up trophy three times.
Guagenti became just the 10th athlete in the meet’s 101-year history to win four events in the same year.
With his record-setting performance, Guagenti’s name will be added to an elite list of four-time Ohio state champs. To be on the all-time performance list with athletes such as Olympic legend Jesse Owens is an honor that Guagenti found indescribable.
“It’s awesome, it’s such a great feeling I don’t know how to describe it,” said Guagenti, with five gold medals draped around his neck.
“I’ve imagined this day for a long time. Ever since I was in sixth grade and I saw Michael Johnson win a gold medal in the Olympics standing on top of the podium. I said that’s got to be me someday and today it was me.”
He set a meet record in the 400 (47.46) and cruised to a second individual victory in the 200 (22.17). He an teammates Ricardo Pena, Jesse Herr and Zach Guagenti also broke their own state and meet record in the 800 relay (1:28.47) and capped the day with another gold in the 1,600 relay by breaking a 22-year old school record with a time of 3:21.44.
Gilmour, meanwhile, finished second behind Bluffton in both the 800 and 1,600 relays, while Thomas Hallal was second to Guagenti in the 200 and third behind Guagenti and Elmwood’s Curtis Smithey in the 400.
“They were in more races than us and we knew if we performed like we could and they performed like they could it was going to be a tight race,” said Guagenti, who will run track at the University of Findlay.
“Our coach told us that 40 points in four events was a pretty good feat and he didn‘t know if we could do it.
It was a little reverse psychology and he’s been doing it all year. It’s a way to pump us up and prove him wrong and we did it.”
But the Pirates needed more than their four victories to earn the state title.
Senior Kory Place provided 8 key points with a second place finish in the shot put Friday. Jesse Herr, Zach Guagenti, Pena and Levi Fredritz added a third place finish in the 400 relay (43.87).
As Bluffton’s team assembled around the state meet awards stand, Guagenti and Place refused to pick up the state championship trophy. They wanted to make sure Bruskotter, who built the school’s track and field program into one of the most successful and well-respected in the entire state was the one to receive the trophy.
“This has been our goal from the beginning. My second year we were state runner-up in 1978. We did it again in 1985 and did it again in 1994,” Bruskotter. “We’ve always wanted to get the bigger trophy.”
Soon after the trophy was in the hands of the athletes, a couple of hundred red-clad Bluffton fans in the center section of the stadium chanted in unison, “It’s a great day to be a Pirate.”
It certainly was.
“How could you do any better than that today. The way our kids performed in every event, you just couldn’t ask for more. We did our very best all day down here,” Bruskotter said.
“My goodness look at that sea of red up there in the stands. You could hear them yelling every time there was a Pirate on the track.
“Today couldn’t be better for our fans and our families.”