By Gary Curreri
Highlands Christian Academy head track coach Jarod Ebenhack laughs at the notion that the school should invest in a track.
With the success the boys and girls varsity teams have had the past several years, at the very least, it makes for some lighthearted discussion.
“It’s a matter of funding,” said Ebenhack, who has been at the school the past four years and guided the team to three boys district championships in the past four years (2014 they were second) and district titles for the girls in 2013 and 2015. The team was runner-up in 2014 and this year. The girls’ squad this year is composed mostly of middle schoolers, while the boys are made up of mostly upper classmen. “To build a basic track would cost around $300,000.
“If we wanted a really good track, it would run about $700,000,” Ebenhack added. “We have everything else – shot put, pole vault and high jump pits, along with long jump and triple jump pits. We practice on various fields around campus and I actually paint a 400-meter track with all of the marks for hurdles and exchange zones around the football field. I think it makes it easier for us because we train in the grass and on the sand, that we go even faster on a track because we are running on a faster surface.”
The boys’ team suffered a tough blow this weekend as soccer standout Elijah Kerr, who runs the leadoff leg for the region’s second ranked 4×100 relay and is the anchor leg for the top-ranked 4×800 relay, broke his foot playing soccer and is out.
“We have good replacements, but it definitely affects the certainty of our performance when you are putting two guys in there who haven’t practiced it regularly,” Ebenhack said. Until 2013, the boys had never won a district championship in track before.
Sophomore Ryan Szklany is the school’s top distance runner with school records in both the 1,600-meter run (4:28) and the 3,200-meter run (9:44). Senior Hunter Walton just eclipsed the school record in the 800-meter dash (2:03).
Senior Chris Julien, the school record holder in the 100-meter dash (11.07) who finished seventh at state last year after winning the regional title in the 100, could win both the 100 and 200-meter dashes at the regional meet.
Junior Justin Ebenhack is on three relays that have school records and is the district champion in the 400-meter dash; Senior Kenny Armstrong won the district titles in both shot put and discus.
Junior Sara Carroll qualified in four events for states the past two years and is hoping to do the same this year. She is also the school record holder in those events – 100-meter hurdles (15.9), 300-meter hurdles (47.99), triple jump (35-10) and high jump (5-4).
“I think the future is really bright for the girls and they can really be dominant for years to come if they stick together,” said Ebenhack, who had started an elementary school track program a couple of years ago. “The majority of our girls team is middle schoolers.
We have a lot of really good young athletes. We are just going to get better.”
The boys were the top-ranked team headed in the regional. The other teams expected to contend for a regional title are Westminster Academy and the South Florida Heat. The girls were expected to finish in the top 5.
“It’s awesome to see them perform,” said Ebenhack, whose boys cross country team has won four consecutive district titles. “They have caught the vision of what kind of work ethic it takes to do it.
“Originally, I really had to push them,” Ebenhack said. “In the past I really had to push them. I am at the point now where I just give them a workout for the day and they will push each other. They will be cheering on each other. It is exciting to see.”
The team has about 70 athletes in the overall program, including middle school and high schools. They are taking 26 to the regionals. Last year the team took 14 to state, which represented about 10 percent of the student body. There are about 160 students at the school this year.
“I’d like to take most everybody to state this year,” Ebenhack said. “Everything will have to fall into place.”