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Training pushes athletes higher

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It was a moment that made an impression on me.

My friend Gene Sales — we called him “Soupy,” for those of you who have lived a little — walked in front of a group of my fellow wrestlers and bent over to pick up a barbell that had more than 100 pounds of weight on it.

Soupy, who was our heavyweight and somewhat of a gentle giant, started doing curls.

When he walked away, the rest of us, all skinny as they come, tried simply to lift the bar without much luck.

It said more about us than Soupy. Collectively, we were a bowl of overcooked pasta when it came to muscles.

That no longer cuts it, especially when it comes to varsity high school sports. When I was a kid, our weights consisted of one Universal Gym tucked into a corner of the gymnasium. That was one bench press for the entire school.

Kids are lifting weights now shortly after leaving the womb. Take a walk through the weight rooms at Columbus East and Columbus North high schools and you will understand that today’s arms race is all about biceps.

Most of us start paying attention to the high school football season when the teams begin official practice in August. Really, though, the competition never stops.

Just before the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. let out for spring break, Columbus East played host to a weight lifting competition for East, North, Bloomington South and Bloomington North.

These guys would put Soupy to shame.

Take East defensive lineman Dalton Bateman, for example. This kid, at 6-foot, 260 pounds, is going to be a senior next season, but he already is a cinder block with a head and feet.

Opponents couldn’t handle Bateman last season, and after he showed off his leg strength with a 520-pound squat, it’s obvious that ball carriers are going to get flattened in the fall.

Everyone knew that Bateman was a powerhouse, but what about Columbus North junior Jacob Barnette, who was coming off an ACL tear and missed a big chunk of last season.

He threw up 335 pounds on the bench and pretty much served notice that teams had better put this defensive lineman on their scouting report.

Bloomington South offensive lineman Z Stephenson was the overall winner of the competition.

“That guy lifted like (a combined) 1,100 pounds,” said North quarterback Michael Vogel. “He had legs like tree trunks.”

Vogel’s performance might have been even more impressive. He won the power clean with a 280-pound lift and he finished fourth overall with a combined 985 pounds.

“It’s kind of fun to say that the quarterback is stronger than the linemen,” he said with a laugh.

It is, indeed, a different world.

“I don’t think a quarterback has to be incredibly strong,” Vogel said. “But you do have to hold your own.”

In some ways, it’s easier for an athlete to hold his or her own these days. Weight training is available during the school day and is offered like math or science. Strength training experts, like North football coach Tim Bless or East assistant football coach David Miller, are on hand to supervise.

While many of the athletes enjoy the weightlifting process, others understand it is a necessary chore to be competitive.

“I’ve never been the most athletic kid,” Vogel said. “Something like the power clean relates to power. It makes me faster.

“But I don’t want to get too big and I don’t like to look bulky.”

Both North and East put all their lifters through similar workouts.

“Our philosophy is that we train athletes, and we don’t sport specific train,” said East athletic director and football coach Bob Gaddis. “We emphasize hip strength and leg strength, but you will see that the volleyball players are right there with us.”

Barnette enjoys his time in the gym, and it certainly gave him a way to burn some energy during his rehab.

“Now I would really like my lower body to catch up,” he said about concentrating on building his upper body after tearing his ACL. “I think the upper body work will help me next season with a good press off the line, explosive power with my hands.

“But I also am working on my quickness and agility. The weight lifting helps my acceleration.”

Vogel said athletes at North are taught that the football program is built upon its strength training.

“Most of the time, I’m positive about it and I enjoy it,” he said. “I think it breeds success on the field.”

But some do have to push themselves through it.

Christian Wichman, an East linebacker and running back, performed well in the pound-for-pound lifting category, but he was more pleased with the 4.47 he ran in the 40-yard dash. It was the fastest time in the competition.

He might not enjoy weight lifting, but he knows it helps. “I ran a 4.68 last year,” he said. “It was crazy to me that I could beat the time (4.55) my brother, Brian, ran last year. I didn’t know I was faster than the other kids on the team.”

Wichman is glad, though, that his linemen like to lift weights. “They have that body type,” he said. “You can tell the hard work they do.”

Jay Heater is The Republic sports editor. He can be reached at or 379-5632.

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