Without even considering the economic impact for Gulf County and the surrounding counties, the FHSAA girls weightlifting tournament last weekend at Port St. Joe High School was a rousing success.
As Gulf County School Superintendent Jim Norton noted in his welcoming remarks before Saturday’s competition, “people came from all parts of the state to our county,” and after thanking everyone for being there, he made a point to remind visitors that Port St. Joe is the Constitution City of the State of Florida.
FHSAA official Deac Story, of Gainesville, termed the event “awesome. Port St. Joe is a wonderful community.
“I have never seen a person in such a high position of authority go out of their way to be hospitable,” he said of Norton. “The whole community has been wonderful.”
Thursday, Feb. 10, opened the competition with 3A schools. Navarre High School, of Santa Rosa County, won the traditional meet, combining bench press and clean-and-jerk, while Vero Beach High of Indian River County claimed the snatch title.
On Friday, Feb. 11, Clay High from Green Cove Springs “snatched” both parts of the 2A meet, with nearby Arnold High, of Panama City Beach, having two first place finishers in Jewel Marino (119 pounds) and Paige Anderson (Unlimited) in the snatch competition.
Prior to the start of the 1A action on Saturday, Norton introduced Don Butler, Gulf County administrator emeritus, to lead everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance. Butler, who served in that role for 29 years, is also a Vietnam vet who was on one of the last helicopters to leave Saigon in 1975 before the North Vietnamese army arrived.
Although weightlifting is considered a non-contact sport, Rick Williams of the Tallahassee Orthopedic Clinic said that he had “called about seven or eight, maybe 10, orthopedics across the state to get them lined up” after tending to an assortment of back, shoulder, and elbow injuries, and even a diabetic coma.
Williams said there had been several bars dropped on noses during the bench press competitions. On Saturday, during the 129 pound bench competition, Evelyn Hansen of St. Johns suffered that very injury. To her credit, after Williams and other officials took care of her, the gritty athlete completed her lift to arguably the loudest applause of the day.
Although no competitor from St. Joe or Wewa earned a first-place medal, Wewa’s Katelyn Kemp (139) placed fifth in the snatch, and teammate Kaylee Easter (129) placed fifth in traditional.
Even though no Tiger Sharks lifted their way onto the podiums, there were some personal records achieved.
St. Joe sophomore Miracle Smiley (101) earned two PRs on the day, first with a bench of 95 followed by a clean-and-jerk of 95. “I feel good,” she said, admitting she overcame lots of nerves before her successful lifts.
Shark senior Lily Wockenfuss (110) also enjoyed a PR, with a snatch of 85 pounds. After failing to get 80, the senior opted to try the higher weight, and after completing the task, she said “Jesus did that!”
At the 129 platform, Shark senior Sarah Metcalf told St. Joe athletic director Tanner Jones, “I’m going for 130” at the bench.
“You’re not going for it, you’re getting it,” Jones replied.
And she did, although that would be her limit in that part of the competition.
With five weight platforms during each of the two sessions, the gym floor teemed with activity. Each platform had three officials to judge the lifts, plus two high school students from Port St. Joe and Wewa to change and adjust the weights.
Wewa athletic director Bobby Johns, who received Norton’s kudos for his efforts, had the main job of arranging the platform officials and student volunteers.
One such official, Tony Curtis worked the 110- and 169-pound platforms during Saturday’s sessions. From Lake City, he said that he had been judging weightlifting events for 15 years.
The Panhandle did have several champions and other medalists on Saturday.
Altha’s Braeden Smith (129) won her second state title in a row in traditional, the first ever two-time state champion in weightlifting. Setting a school record in the bench at 185 pounds, the junior is coached by her father, Robbie Smith.
Katerin Zacarias of Bay High School won gold at 199 pounds in traditional, as did Freeport’s Sydney Free at 169 lbs. in snatch.
Suwannee High took the first place title in 1A snatch, followed by local area teams Marianna (sixth), Freeport and Bozeman (tied for ninth), while Wewa came in 25th overall.
In traditional competition, Bradford High took the gold, with Altha placing third, Bay fourth, Marianna seventh, Blountstown and Freeport tying for 17th, Bozeman 20th, and Wewa 23rd.
A tired, but pleased Johns, while acknowledging the long hours, said that “it’s been a good weekend, and I’ll rest tomorrow (Sunday).”
Wewa coach David Peavy said he would be playing golf on Sunday with friends in anticipation of celebrating his 49th birthday later in the week.
“We had an incredible year filled with growth and improvement from a very young team, and to cap it off with six qualifiers (and) two medals at state is amazing,” said Peavy, paying tribute to his entire team. “I am so proud of these girls, and can’t wait to see what next year brings!”
Port St. Joe coach John Simpson echoed his Wewa counterpart.“I really couldn’t be more proud of Sarah, Lily, and Miracle. They represented this school with pride, (and) two of them got PRs as well,” he said. ““I’m happy that Sarah and Lily got to compete as seniors in the state championship.”
“The way the championship was set up created an environment like no other,” said the Shark coach. “Coach Johns and Coach Jones did a phenomenal job in the layout and logistics of the entire meet.”
Johns and Jones, along with all of the others who served countless hours working the three-day event, earned a well-deserved rest, however brief, because boys weightlifting has just begun. And the FHSAA, thrilled with Gulf County hospitality during the girls tournament, will be returning in April when the statewide boys tournament takes place.
Area medal winners
- 101, Gracie Richmond of Bozeman, 6th
- 110, Layla Goins of Blountstown, 2nd, and Katie Layfield of Altha, 3rd
- 119, Paige Stone of Altha, 3rd
- 129, Altha’s Smith, 1st
- 139, Darci Wicker of Bozeman, 5th
- 154, Kayla Maddox of Marianna, 4th
- 169, Kahlan Gant of Bay, 2nd, and Sydney Free of Freeport, 3rd
- 199, Gracie Marshall of Altha, 4th
- 101, Richmond of Bozeman, 3rd
- 119, Ansleigh Steele of Chipley, 3rd
- 129, Lauren Breen of Bozeman, 4th
- 154, Maddox of Marianna, 2nd, Brittany Elizando of North Bay Haven, 4th, and Cali Fitzgerald of NBH, 6th
- 169, Besides Free’s 1st, Gant of Bay, 2nd
- UNL, Kelis Garrett of Marianna, 2nd