Qualification for the fourth annual Vernon Korhn Hillsborough County Championships begins Wednesday with Western Conference divisional meets at Jefferson (American), Armwood (National) and Spoto (Federal).
Action begins at noon with the 4x800-meter relay and field events. Preliminary rounds of the sprints and hurdles are slated for 1 p.m., followed by the finals in all running events.
Besides team trophies, there's plenty at stake in these three meets. The top four finishers in each event at each meet earn automatic berths to the county championships, April 6 at Jefferson. Also advancing to the county finals will be the next-best four performances in each event, regardless of what meet those marks were recorded.
At the American division meet, Plant's all-around excellence makes it the boys favorite. But Robinson, Jefferson and Alonso should factor into the mix. The Panthers have a strong advantage in technical events like the pole vault, where, led by one of the state's best, junior Brian Baird, they could score big points.
On the girls side, watch for Steinbrenner's girls, who have finished third in two major meets this season, to battle Gaither, Plant, Sickles and Alonso.
At Armwood, an extremely competitive divisional meet is expected. Hillsborough's boys, led by stars Terrence Mitchell, Carlton Walton and Brandon McFadden, are the strong favorites. The hosting Hawks, paced by senior Richard Jules, boast tremendous depth while Chamberlain is expected to dominate the distance races.
In the girls meet, Wharton and Tampa Bay Tech will square off again, with Hillsborough and Freedom fielding solid squads, too. Led by its terrific trio - sprinters Tanesha Maxwell and La'Shae White and thrower Leria Jenrette - TBT has been getting closer to Wharton each week.
The Federal meet could be a wide-open affair and host Spoto is hoping to make a statement on the progress of its program. But Plant City, winner of the recent Jack Rice Invitational, is favored on the boys side. Riverview, which won Jack Rice and the Manuel-Griffin-Fraundorfer Relays, is the team to beat in the girls' competition.
This weekend's Florida Relays in Gainesville offers the next test for area athletes on a state level. The question for many of the distance runners is this: How well can they perform with Western Conference qualifying meets this week, the county finals next week and, on April 10, the University of Tampa Distance Carnival.
Prep competition at the University of Florida's Percy Beard track starts Friday at 10 a.m. with field events and continues Saturday afternoon with the 4x400.
After Chamberlain senior Mark Parrish smashed the 3,200 school record held for the past 36 years by Terry Crews at Friday's FSU Relays, Crews, now a teacher at the school, expected to get some ribbing.
Chiefs coach Bill Strack said Crews got it Monday when students made him sympathy cards. Parrish ran 9:09.26 to shatter Crews' mark by 10 seconds. With Chamberlain sophomore Max del Monte closing in on Crews' 1,600 record of 4:15.7 (also set in 1974), Crews could be receiving even more good-natured grief.