NORTHWESTERN GIRLS, KOKOMO BOYS AND WESTERN UNIFIED ALL WIN IHSAA TRACK AND FIELD SECTIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS

The Western Panthers earned the school’s first-ever IHSAA Unified Track and Field Sectional championship. (SJ photo/Josh Larsh)

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO, Ind. – In the span of five days, Howard County schools hosted three IHSAA track and field sectional tournaments. When the trophies were handed out, all three remained in Howard County as Northwestern won girls sectional, Kokomo won the boys and Western won the Unified Track title.

On May 17 at the Northwestern Girls Track and Field Sectional, Northwestern won its second title and first since 2014 by cruising to a 50 point victory over runners-up Maconaquah (159-109). The Lady Tigers were led by freshman triple-winner Makala Pfefferkorn, who won the 300-meter hurdles, the long jump and was a member of the winning 3,200-meter relay team; she also placed second in the 100-meter hurdles.

Kokomo finished fourth but had a scare when 2017 state finalist Tionna Brown, a sophomore, appeared to injure her ankle in the long jump. She easily won the 100-meter dash, although she limped down the stretch. She also won the 200 but did not finish the 400 when she pulled up out of the block. Brown also placed third in the long jump.

On May 19 at the Kokomo Boys Track and Field Sectional, the host Wildkats took home a 39-point victory over second place Pioneer (127-88). Kokomo was led by a trio of triple-winners: Steven Edwards, Julian Wallace and Quincy Armstrong. Edwards won the 100- and 200-meter dashes and was a member of the winning 400-meter relay team. Wallace took first in the 800-meter run and was a member of two winning relay teams. Armstrong earned a blue ribbon by setting a Kokomo Sectional record time of 38.05 in the 300-meter hurdles while also running on a pair of champion relay teams.

Western senior Tyler Gilbert thrilled the fans by setting a new Kokomo Sectional record in the discus (185-9). The defending state champion is now a three-time sectional champ.

On May 21 at the Western Unified Track and Field Sectional, the Western Panthers took care of business and claimed its first-ever Unified title. The Panthers earned a 19-point win over runners-up Kokomo (120-101).

This week, Kokomo hosts the girls track regional on May 22, the boys travel to the Warsaw Regional on May 24 and Kokomo hosts the Unified regional on May 26.

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NCC CHAMPIONS: KOKOMO WINS FIRST BASEBALL CONFERENCE TITLE SINCE 2010

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Ask anyone on the Kokomo High School baseball team, and they will admit they needed this one. For four seasons, Wildkat Nation has talked about the potential of the class of 2018, only to be disappointed in tournament play. But for two consecutive weekends, long after starting the season ranked No. 2 before falling completely out of the polls, the Wildkats showed the state they are coming alive at the right time.

In the North Central Conference baseball tournament, the Kats disposed of Muncie Central a week ago before taking down Harrison 11-1 in the semifinals and West Division champion McCutcheon 6-4 in the title game – on the Mavericks home field, no less. It was the first NCC title for the baseball program since 2010.

“Yes, we needed this,” said senior Bayden Root after posing for a team picture with the NCC championship trophy. “Man, this team needed this. I love playing with this team and I am glad I could contribute today.”

“This was a long-time coming,” said Kokomo head coach Sean Swan. “There were a lot of expectations for this group, and last year they came up short. I am happy for them. They have done a great job and I am thrilled they have a chance to experience this. You play to win, and now they will have their picture in the halls of Kokomo High School.”

Jack Perkins, who was a star at the plate and on the field during the final two games, was all smiles after the game.

“This is huge for us – McCutcheon has always been a rival whether it was football, basketball, or especially baseball,” said Perkins, noting the Mavericks won the two regular season contests by scores of 2-1 and 7-1. “We worked hard for this since our freshman year. We love representing Kokomo. Yes, we needed this, especially going into sectional.”

Root picked up the championship game victory after pitching the first 5 2/3 innings. He gave up three runs and five hits with nine strikeouts before giving way to Kyle Wade in a crazy sixth inning. With Kokomo leading 4-1, Root got the first two Mavericks hitters out – the second a fly to left field off the bat of Evan Allen.

But as Allen – who hit a fourth inning solo home run – crossed the field, he and Root got into a minor yelling match. According to game management, both had been warned earlier in the game after the home run, and the home plate umpire quickly told both to stop after the flyout. While Root returned to the mound, Allen kept yelling and began to return to the pitcher’s mound, resulting in a near benches-clearing incident (several McCutcheon players entered the field while Kokomo kept most of its bench at a distance). The field umpire immediately threw Allen out of the game, and after several tense minutes, order was restored (no punches were thrown, verbal only).

Unfortunately for Kokomo, the next five McCutcheon hitters reached, scoring two runs and looking for more. But Kyle Wade came on in relief and broke off a perfect breaking ball on the outside corner for a called third strike on Kobe McNeely to halt the rally.

“We had a great approach all day today,” said Root. “I could just tell going to the bus that this was going to be a special day. We are in a good spot right now. Jack threw amazing (in the semifinal game); that is the great thing about playing with great guys, you want to come out and match that in the evening.”

After Kokomo went down 1-2-3 in the top of the seventh, Wade came out and earned the save, ending the game with a second backward K to set off a Wildkat celebration.

The Kats started the game strong as Jack Perkins singled and scored on a Noah Hurlock one-baser. It was 2-0 after two courtesy a Jaden Armfield single and Perkins RBI base hit. Kokomo made it 4-0 in the top of the third after Wade reached on an error, Root walked and Armfield and Nate Hemmerich following with RBI singles. Leading 4-1, the Kats put two more on the board in the sixth: Hemmerich and Payton McClain each singled and scored on a Noah Hurlock double.

Kokomo finished with 10 hits – Perkins had two singles, Hurlock had a single and double with three RBIs and Armfield and Hemmerich both had two singles and an RBI.

Earlier in the day, Kokomo (15-8) disposed of Harrison 11-1 in six innings – and the outing belonged to Perkins. The senior dominated on the hill with a three-hit, no walk, nine strikeout performance – the lone run by Harrison was unearned. At the plate, Perkins put the game away with a grand slam in the fourth inning. He also had a double and triple while scoring twice.

“I was just trying to come out and compete,” said Perkins. “My last couple of starts was off of where I wanted to be. So, I just came out and wanted to get in front of hitters, which I did. And at the plate, I am just seeing the ball really well right now.”

“On the mound, we were as good as we’ve been all year,” said Swan of the trio of Perkins, Root and Wade. “It is what we hoped was coming and they are now coming into their stride. They commanded the zone and were ahead in the count – and offensively, we got some runs on the board early.”

The Kats had 13 hits against Harrison (13-11), including a walk-off, game-ending two-run home run off the bat of Wade, who had three hits and three RBIs. Root also had two hits in the win.

The NCC title was the 13th in Wildkat history, joining the squads from 1966, 1976, 1981, 1982, 1984, 1985, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010. Kokomo closes its regular season with road trips at Westfield (May 14) and 4A No. 1 Huntington North (May 17) before celebrating Senior Day with a doubleheader against Muncie Central on May 19. Ironically, the Kats open sectional play against No. 10 McCutcheon at Kokomo Municipal Stadium on May 23 – a fourth meeting between the NCC rivals.

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JASON SNYDER STEPS DOWN AS KOKOMO AD TO ACCEPT POSITION OF WALLACE ELEMENTARY PRINCIPAL, NICK SALE NAMED REPLACEMENT

KOKOMO, Ind. – Fans of Kokomo athletics were shocked Monday night when the Kokomo School Corporation Board of Trustees named Athletic Director Jason Snyder as the new principal of Wallace Elementary School of Integrated Arts. But they may have felt some relief when the board voted to hire current Eastern AD Nick Sale, a Kokomo graduate, as Snyder’s replacement.

After serving the past seven years as athletic director, Snyder requested new and different leadership opportunities within the Kokomo School Corporation and will replace retiring Principal Charley Hinkle at the Wallace School of Integrated Arts.

“I am very excited to be able to make a difference in students’ lives,” Snyder stated. “With both my parents being teachers, I have always been extremely passionate about education.”

The former Boulevard Elementary student and 1995 KHS graduate is looking forward to becoming a member of the Wallace School community.

“The younger students bring such energy and enthusiasm to school each day,” said Snyder. “I already have great relationships with many of the Wallace staff members, and Mr. (Charley) Hinkle has done a wonderful job making integrated arts a showcase for Kokomo Schools. I am looking forward to spending time with Mr. Hinkle and continuing the great work being done at Wallace.”

Kokomo Superintendent Dr. Jeff Hauswald understands Snyder’s desire to return to the classrooms of a school as a building principal.

“He is a great team player,” said Hauswald. “Jason has been talking to us for some time about additional leadership responsibilities and his desire to grow in the profession. I am thrilled with this opportunity for Jason.”

Board member Crystal Sanburn was equally excited about Snyder’s move.

“The shoes you are filling at Wallace are very large,” she told Snyder at the board meeting. “I can’t believe how awesome this is for us that you are taking this position. It almost makes me cry – we couldn’t be more blessed to have you in this position.”

The transfer of Snyder created a vacancy for the Kokomo High School athletic director, which is being filled by Nicholas Sale, a 2007 Kokomo High School graduate. Sale views the move to Kokomo as a homecoming, and noted that his wife Brooke (Cantrell) also is a KHS grad (class of 2008).

“My Mom (Rita) has worked for Kokomo Schools for more than 40 years, and her love for Kokomo Schools continues to have a great influence on my life, as well as this decision,” Sale explained. “My experiences at Eastern prepared me well to serve as Kokomo’s new athletic director.”

Kokomo is classified as a 4A school by the IHSAA and Eastern is a 2A school. While at Eastern the past seven years, Sale served four years as a 10th-grade language arts teacher, one year as the middle school Dean of students, and the past two years as athletic director. During those seven school years, Sale served as the varsity head coach of the baseball team, a position he still holds, and the boys tennis squad.

Sale noted that he was thankful to the Eastern School Corporation, especially to former Eastern AD Brad Wilson, “who allowed me to grow professionally.”

Having a pair of athletic director mentors on the Kokomo Schools staff in Mike Wade and Snyder helped Sale make his decision to accept the Kokomo position.

“Mr. Wade and Mr. Snyder are outstanding men, as well as being very good athletic directors, and I am thankful to have their expertise available,” said Sale, who was a member of the 2007 KHS baseball team that earned state runner-up honors. “Having played at Kokomo, I understand the tradition-rich North Central Conference, and I hope I can continue the Kokomo legacy in athletics.”

Snyder feels Sale is a great fit for the athletic director position.

“I believe Kokomo is very fortunate to have Nick Sale as our new athletic director,” Snyder said. “Nick has been great to work with the past two years, and he is very experienced in hosting IHSAA tournaments and project development. Nick’s passion for Kokomo High School is simply a plus. I look forward to a smooth transition this summer.”

The board also voted to hire Jason Spear as a Kokomo High School vice principal, replacing Richard Benberry who is returning to the classroom. Benberry was recently named the KHS varsity football coach and Spear will join the Kats coaching staff, a position he previously held. Spear considers returning to the Kokomo School Corporation after an eight-year absence as a homecoming.

“I will be coming back to the place I love – Kokomo,” Spear explained. “I left Kokomo for family reasons and I am returning for family reasons. My sister (Jennifer Simmons) still lives in Kokomo and she was very influential in our decision to return. Being near family is a big deal for me.”

After 17 years in special education classrooms (nine years at Central Middle School in Kokomo), Spear feels he is ready for the new responsibilities of being a high school vice principal.

“I love working with people,” said Spear, who recently was selected as the 2017-18 Teacher of the Year at Lawrence Central. “I am passionate about helping students become better people, and I am looking forward to working closely with teachers to help our students become the best they can be.”

Spear also is looking forward to serving as an assistant football coach.

“My coaching experiences at Kokomo were outstanding,” Spear said. “(Former KHS head coach Brett) Colby was one of the most influential people in my professional life. I have continued coaching football and earned a state championship ring in 2011 with Carmel.”

Courtesy of the Kokomo School Corporation and Sports Journal

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