Four of Columbus North’s football and track stars thought they were the fastest 4×100-meter relay team to ever wear a Bull Dogs uniform after clocking a 42.8-second hand-held time to close the regular season against Franklin.

When juniors Damon Hunter Jr., Jaylen Flemmons and Cortez Bandy and senior Mitchell Burton came to school the following Monday, they soon realized they were a hundredth of a second off the record once 24 hundreths of a second were added for the automatic-time conversion.

North coach Lou Sipe said the quartet handled it really well after hearing they did not actually own the record yet, and he could tell they were determined to make sure they broke it the next time.

“We were all pretty happy that night,” Flemmons said about the Franklin meet. “Everyone was posting about (us breaking the record) … I think we used that anger when they told us we didn’t break it so we could run faster against everyone in the sectional.”

The Bull Dogs left no room for discrepancy at the sectional when they crossed the finish line in 42.59 seconds, breaking the record by almost a half-second. They will be competing in the Boys Track and Field State Finals Friday at Indiana University.

“We knew that we would get it before the season is over because we are some fast kids,” Bandy said.

One of the main things the team worked on all season to improve its time are the baton handoffs. Burton said the handoffs are what kept them from running their best times earlier in the season, but says the exchanges have been getting better with every race.

The team practices three to four handoffs per exchange the day before every track meet and sometimes even more if needed. Practicing exchanges over and over may sound like a tedious task, but it has paid off for the North relay team. The four of them have known each other for most of their high school years because of their football connection, and Hunter said the friendship between them makes it that much easier to critique each others’ exchanges.

“I feel like being friends, you’re open (to criticism),” Hunter Jr. said. “If we have a bad handoff, we can be like ‘Your hand was little low. You have to get your hands higher.’ It’s just easier to talk to them.”

Breaking the record was a big accomplishment for the four of them, but now they are focused on a new task — the state finals. The same group, with the exception of first-year runner Hunter, made it to this point last year, but did not run as fast as they were hoping.

Their time of 43.65 put them in 21st place at last year’s state meet. But they are running more than a second faster this year and will be looking to place in the top nine, which would earn them a spot on the medal stand.

The quartet finished third in 42.72 in the Warren Central regional, which has them seeded 12th going into state. But they’ve already proven they are capable of running faster than that.

“We made it last year, and we felt like we didn’t have as good of a performance as we should have,” Flemmons said. “Since we’re doing our best right now, we feel like we can do a lot better and hopefully place at state. That’s our goal.”

Burton already has experienced success against the highest level of competition, placing fifth in the long jump in last year’s state meet. This is his third consecutive state finals in the long jump and will be competing in the 100 for the second straight year.

Both Burton and Sipe like Burton’s chances of earning a top-three finish or possibly even winning state in the long jump. His 22-foot, 9 1/4-inch leap won the regional and is the third-best regional jump in the state. Burton is seeded behind only Frankie Young lll of Heritage Christian and Antonio Villegas of Floyd Central, both of whom jumped 23-0 in their regional meets.

“I feel pretty confident,” Burton said. “I’m accomplishing everything I’ve wanted to do ever since I’ve started track — going to state in multiple events and then definitely breaking the school record. I’ve always wanted to be up on the board, so that was pretty cool doing it this year.”

Burton is looking to become the first individual champion from North since Christian Wagner won back-to-back titles in both the 1,600 and 3,200 in 2003 and 2004.

Burton, a Miami (Ohio) football commit, anchors the relay team. Hunter leads off, followed by Bandy and Flemmons.

The foursome are trying to eliminate all distractions this week in preparation for performing well at state.

“The day of the state, we’re out in the sun for like six or seven hours before we actually even run,” Flemmons said. “So we just have to make sure we’re hydrated and eating good.”

If you go

Boys and Girls Track and Field State Finals

When: 3 p.m. Friday (boys), 3 p.m. Saturday (girls)

Where: Indiana University’s Robert C. Haugh Track and Field Complex

Admission: $10 each day

Local boys qualifiers

Pole vault: Brigham Kleinhenz, Columbus North

High jump: T.C. O’Neal, Columbus East

Long jump: Mitchell Burton, Columbus North; O’Neal, Columbus East

Shot put: Coleman Tennyson, Columbus North

4×800 relay: Brown County (Wyatt Wyman, Job Lawson, Jackson McPheeters, Isaiah Keefauver)

100: Burton, Columbus North

1,600: Dalton Craig, Jennings County

4×100 relay: Columbus North (Damon Hunter Jr., Cortez Bandy, Jaylen Flemmons, Burton)

800: Wyman, Brown County

3,200: Charlie Allen, Columbus North

Local girls qualifiers

Pole vault: Maddy Fields, Brown County (also for BC Democrat)

High jump: Hailley Peters, Trinity Lutheran (also for Seymour Tribune)

Shot put: Kayla Truesdell, Jennings County

Discus: Truesdell, Jennings County

3,200: Olivia Morlok, Columbus North

Author photo
Frank Bonner is a sports writer for The Republic. He can be reached at fbonner@therepublic.com or 812-379-5632.