JEFFERSON CITY • LeTorre Swinney's Saturday started with tears.
It ended with smiles.
The Cleveland NJROTC boys track and field coach choked up when addressing his team at the hotel Saturday. It was the last time he'd coach James Allen, Kelsey Cole and Antonio Norman, his three horses.
“I'm going to miss them. It's been a pleasure,” Swinney said. “I got teared up a little bit this morning knowing this will be the last time I have them as athletes. It's tough being the last time we'll be on the track together.”
It might have been the last time, but it was among the best times. Cleveland scored 75 points to defend its Missouri Class 2 state championship at Licklider Track and Field Complex on the campus of Jefferson City High.
Cleveland became just the second Public High League team to ever win back-to-back state championships and the first to do it in more than half a century. Beaumont won consecutive state crowns in 1960 and 1961. It also won three in a row between 1944 and 1946.
“This is what we worked for all year,” said Allen, a senior runner.
The Commanders held off a strong charge from Maplewood-Richmond Heights, which was the runner up with 59 points. Lathrop was third with 45 and Monroe City was fourth with 39.
It's the first time Maplewood has finished in the top four at the state track meet since its string of three successive titles was broken in 2012 by Cleveland.
The Blue Devils got individual championships out of junior Zac Barton in the 100 meter dash and sophomore Malik Stewart in the 1,600.
“It feels good,” Barton said. “We worked really hard this year.”
Added Stewart, “It feels amazing. We're breaking records and bringing Maplewood back in the picture and it feels great.”
Stewart sprang a surprise in the 800 when he slipped past Allen to finish second. Russellville senior Harrison Frank won in 1 minute and 59 seconds. Allen took third in 2:01, a disappointing result for a guy who is among the best half milers in Missouri.
“My legs died. I felt them dying the last 200,” Allen said. “I knew I was in trouble.”
Allen was in trouble but the Commanders were not. Seniors Kelsey Cole and Antonio Norman were sensational as they piled up the individual championships.
Cole won the long jump (22 feet, 5.75 inches), triple jump (48-3.25) and 200 (22.36 seconds). He helped the 400 relay team finish fourth. Norman won the 110-meter hurdles (14.8) and 300 hurdles (37.77).
“Kelsey and Antonio came up big this weekend,” Allen said.
Norman was hoping to make a run at the state record in the 300s but he had to compete in a downpour.
“My feet weren't gripping the ground right,” he said. “I can't say I did too bad. I wish it was drier so I could break the record.”
The end came fast for Cole. A three-year track athlete, he gave it up as a freshman because he didn't think it was for him. Swinney talked him into giving it a second chance. He's done things no one has done in the Public High League in a long time. Track will even help him get to college. He'll join Allen and Norman at Lindenwood University on track scholarships.
“It's kind of a bitter sweet moment,” Cole said. “I wish I'd run all four years.”