COLUMBUS — For months, Mount Vernon High School’s Sam Bethea and Cory Berg have focused on one goal: To make history. They wanted to stand on the top-two spots on the podium at the 2019 OHSAA State Track and Field Championships. At the end of the final day of competition at Jesse Owens Stadium at Ohio State University on Saturday, they achieved their goal.
Bethea, a senior, completed his high school career as the first Mount Vernon Division I state champion in 20 years, winning the finals of the 110-meter hurdles. With that win, he ascended to the very top of the podium with a time of 14.42 seconds. Berg capped his junior year as runner-up in the 300-meter hurdles. Their combined performance lifted Mount Vernon to a surprising, seventh-place team finish in the Division I points standings. For these two inseparable friends, it was the brightest moment of their high school athletic careers. For their school, families and community, it was a very proud moment.
“I told him (Berg), we’re going to go all the way,” said a jubilant Bethea. “No giving up. No letting up. We’re going to go.”
It was shaping up to be a tough day for Bethea and Berg. During the season, they had expected to have a real shot at first and second place in the high jump, where they dreamed of standing side-by-side on the same podium. Bethea, who was All-Ohio in the high jump last year, missed qualifying for state in that event this year. Berg did qualify for the state high jump, but finished way down in the standings, placing 14th after knocking down the bar three times at 6-feet-4. Bethea, for his part, was unable to reach the podium in long jump, winding up 12th at 20-feet-11. By mid-afternoon, each had just one more shot at standing on the podium.
Bethea would get his turn first. He had been anticipating the 110 hurdles. The difference for Bethea was a powerful start, which gave him an advantage he would never relinquish. He credits his coaches and his grandfather, former Mansfield Senior athlete Bruce Woodson.
“I was thinking that, if I get a good block start, this race is mine,” Bethea said. “I told my grandpa and my coaches, ‘If you work on my block start for the state meet, I will take it all.’”
Bethea, who had been right around 14.3 to 14.4 seconds all season, had to reach back for a little extra in the final 30 meters of the race.
“(The runner in) lane eight started catching up to me towards the last hurdle,” Bethea said. “I was like, I wanted it too badly. So, on the last hurdle, I just floored it straight to the finish line.”
After crossing the finish line first, Bethea held up the front of his shirt to the crowd, proudly displaying the words, ‘Mount Vernon.’ It was the first time since 1999 that a Yellow Jackets’ athlete won an individual gold medal at the State Track and Field Championships. The last Mount Vernon High School athlete to accomplish that feat was Brett Coffing in the discus throw.
“Nobody has won the hurdles from Mount Vernon,” Bethea said. “I wanted to show everyone where I came from. A lot of people hadn’t heard of Mount Vernon. We’re not a big school. I told Cory, ‘We’ve got to make this into a big school. We’ve got to do something to put this up. Let’s put (our school) on the map.’”
Although Bethea had run his last race of the day, both of these friends knew there was unfinished business. With the clock pointing past 5:30 p.m., it was Berg’s turn to finish fulfilling the goal they had made at the start of the season.
“The high jump was disappointing, but I had to look past that and keep in mind that the 300 is my best shot at getting on the podium,” Berg said. “Sam and I talked about being 1-2. The only bad part is that it wasn’t the same event, but we still made it. That was our goal all season.”
It took the best high school 300-meter hurdler in the nation — Evan Matthews (36.88 seconds) of Pickerington Central — to beat out Berg (37.30) for first place.
“I felt like I held him pretty well at the start, into the first turn,” said Berg. “Coming off (the turn) I heard footsteps and saw (Matthews) go by. I tried to kick it in — nothing, but second is not too bad, so I’m not going to get too down about that.”
Earlier in the day, the Division II 4×100-meter relay team from Highland High School landed on the podium, finishing sixth (43.04 seconds) in the finals. The foursome of Brock Veley, Chase Carpenter, Landyn Albanese and Jack Weaver.
The only goal that this quartet carried around with them all year was to have fun. Weaver, the team’s anchorman, never expected to be standing on the podium in June. When he was handed the baton on Saturday’s final leg, it looked like there would be no trip up the podium. Weaver had to turn on the speed and pass a pair of runners in the final stretch to help his team land in sixth spot.
“I just can’t believe it,” said Weaver. “We started out throwing a formula together that we thought might be pretty fast and ended up here, somehow.”
Weaver, a junior, also placed ninth in the 200-meter run. His time of 22:82 was five-hundredths of a second shy of a second trip to the podium on Saturday. He and Albanese, a sophomore, want to return, next year.
“It feels incredible,” Albanese said. “I think we could have done even better, but we’re sixth at state and that’s incredible.”
Veley, who climbed the podium twice, was sixth in the 100 meters, putting a dream ending on his high school career.
“This is exciting,” said Veley. “We worked all year, but we’re all best friends. We just stayed relaxed and did the best we could. Luckily, it all worked out and we reached the podium, so I’m proud of all of them. It’s better to stand on the podium with your friends than alone.”
Carpenter, who never ran track until this season, had not planned on being All-Ohio.
“It’s almost like a fairy tale,” Carpenter said. “I was never a spring athlete in the past. I lifted for football, but that’s about it. Then, I get talked into running track by these three guys. They said, ‘We will have so much fun. We could put you on a relay team.’ Then I was like, ‘OK, I’ll do it.’ Then we end up here. I wasn’t really planning on that.”
Fredericktown senior Paden Sencer, the lone area athlete to participate in the final day of Division III competition, placed 12th in the 1,600 meter run. His time of 4:32.25 was nearly seven seconds slower than his seed time.