Newcomers steal spotlight en route to Ship
By Philip Cmor
LOYSBURG — Cleeford Sylne’s aunt was one of the first Haitian exchange students to come to the United States a couple of decades ago, and she liked it so much, she wanted her nephew to experience the same thing.
She never got to the top of an awards podium on her visit, though.
Only involved in track and field since March, Sylne has been right at home in the sport, and it showed on Wednesday at Northern Bedford’s Panther Community Stadium when he jumped a personal record of 22 feet, 1 inch on his final attempt to overcome a loaded field in the boys long jump and also was part of a gold-medal relay for Bedford at the District 5 championships.
Another relative newcomer to the sport, Chestnut Ridge baseball standout Phillip Dull, looked like a natural by winning the high jump in impressive fashion in a sweltering heat that seemed to melt so many other competitors.
Sylne, Dull and the Bedford boys four-by 100 team were joined at the top spot on the medal podium by fellow area boys Vinny Fernandez of Bedford (shot put), Cam Sherlock of Northern Bedford (1600-meter run) and Evan Germaux of Tussey Mountain (100-meter dash). All of them earned a spot in next weekend’s PIAA championships in Shippensburg, as did Chestnut Ridge’s Noah Dillow, who met the predetermined qualifying distance when he finished third in the long jump.
Event winners and those achieving the state qualifying mark all advance to the PIAA meet.
Fernandez’s win in the shot secured the team title for Bedford, whose 77 points were four more than runner-up Southern Fulton.
“It feels great. You’ve just got to thank God for all of this. I never really thought … I mean, I knew I could do better than what I had been jumping, but I never thought I would reach the 22s,” Sylne said after his individual victory.
Sylne was 3 inches shy of the state standard of 21-6 and chasing Conemaugh Township’s Nate Formica when he hit the runaway for his last jump.
“I was like, ‘I have to get my foot out there,'” Sylne said. “I just thought about getting better. I thought about popping off the board really hard and trying to stay in the air for a while, longer than what I’m used to staying in the air.”
Sylne — pronounced “sil-NAY” — has come a long way in a short time. He was seeded second to Northern Bedford’s Gavin Gilbert coming into the district meet, but his best jump of the season before Wednesday was a more-than-respectable 21-10.75.
Sylne also punched his ticket to Shippensburg as part of Bedford’s 400 relay along with Aaron Zembower, Mitchell Zembower and Andrew Foor, posting a time of 44.75.
“At first, I thought it would be hard for me, because there were some pretty good jumpers,” Sylne said. “Our coaches are really good. They’ve been helping me all season. That’s what helps me to get better.”
The road that led Sylne to Bedford came from being a favored nephew.
“(My aunt) decided to help me to come here because she thought it was a good experience,” Sylne said. “She really liked me, so she wanted me to have the opportunity to come here.”
Sylne needed to come up big. The top three finishers in the event all met the state qualifying distance, and Gilbert was an inch and a half from making it, too. A late addition to Ridge’s track team, Dillow jumped a personal-record of 21-10.75 to earn a spot in the state field.
“The competition pushed me on every single jump. I knew I had to keep getting farther and farther,” Dillow said. “It feels like a big relief (to make it). I knew I could get 21-6. I just 4 more inches than the state qualification, so that made me really happy.”
Verbally committed to West Virginia although he’s still just a junior, Dull says he isn’t a track star, but he sure looked like one in getting his personal record of 6-4 in the high jump, a height that, if he can duplicate it next week, probably will put him back on the medal stand.
“I’m excited about it,” Dull said. “That was my main goal here — to make it to states in something. I accomplished my goal.”
To make it in the high jump was a surprise to Dull. Although he was one of six competitors tied at the top-seeded height of 6-0, it really looked like his best shot at advancing was in the 100. In the high jump, he was going to face daunting, experience competition from the likes of Northern Bedford’s Gavin Gilbert and Everett’s Jesse Wyns.
“It turns out I did better at high jump.” Dull said. “Everything did come together in my last couple of jumps. When I scratched on that first one, that kind of put a fire in me that I didn’t want to do it again. The heat definitely helped. I definitely perform better when the sun’s shining really hot.”
Dull said he just decided to come out for track to occupy his non-baseball time.
“I just did it for occupation of my time when I’m not doing anything with baseball,” Dull said. “I just thought I’d come out and try something new.”
Now he feels settled in.
“I’ve always been able to jump,” Dull said. “I kind’ve gotten used to the environment, too, and my steps right, finally, for the first time in every meet I’ve been.”
Few competitors might have savored their gold medal more than Fernandez, who seems to have been close or predicted to do well so many times only to have things elude him. But the 44-6.25 he threw on his second attempt was enough to get him over the top, and he almost duplicated it on his final attempt.
Windber’s Evan Quinn, the No. 1 seed, was second at 44-0.
“It felt amazing. Honestly, I’ve never been on the top of a podium before. It was a nice feeling,” Fernandez said. “I knew I was going to be close with Quinn. It was either going to be me or him taking first.”
Technique, Fernandez said, was the key.
“It was mainly my form,” Fernandez said. “The end of the form, that flick, whenever I get that flick, I know it’s going. As soon as I felt that flick, I saw it going, I was like, ‘Yeah.’ You already know.”
He’s looking forward to trying to build upon this showing at states.
“It’s awesome. I’ve never been to states other than junior high wrestling. I’m going to work my butt off on everything,” Fernandez said.
Sherlock led wire to wire in the 1600 and cruised across the finish line despite the best efforts of Berlin Brothersvalley’s Silas Eckenroad to run him down at the end. Sherlock’s time was 4 minutes, 46.79 seconds.
“I knew if I took a lead early, I could really turn it into a race for second. My legs are feeling good,” Sherlock said. “I knew that if I was moving quick the first lap, guys would drop off.”
Sherlock, though, was spent and unhappy because he wasn’t able to win two golds. However, he got boxed in early, had to expend a lot of energy to get back out front and just didn’t have enough to hold off Southern Fulton’s Chase Varner over the last 130 meters.
“I had my eyes set on the 800,” Sherlock said. “I’m kind of disappointed I lost, but, if I’m going to lose, I’d much rather lose to Chase than anybody else. He’s a great guy and a really strong athlete.”
Sherlock declined to place any blame on the overwhelming heat and sun, a contrast to so much of this track season.
“We’re all running in the same conditions. If I’m slower by a second or two, everyone else will be, too,” Sherlock said.
Sherlock will be able to focus on just doing his best in the mile at Shippensburg.
“(I’m just going to focus on) getting my legs stronger. Going to do a lot of speed work, try to get quicker,” Sherlock said.
Germaux actually won the 200 meters with a time of 22.90 while wearing glasses, something he doesn’t normally do.
“I didn’t have time (to take them off). I didn’t even have time to stretch,” Germaux said.
In the end, though, Germaux was all smiles. He missed states last year after a knee injury.
“It felt good. It felt really good,” Germaux said of winning and qualifying for states. “Oh, this is something crazy.”
It was looking like Germaux might be left disappointed again. He was seeded first in the 100 but wound up finishing fourth.
“I had a horrible start. It was awful,” Germaux said. “And then I saw everybody in front of me, and I just had nothing to give.”
However, that served as added fuel for the 200 finals.
“It made me really mad,” Germaux said. “I just was determined to win.”