By CONOR NICHOLL
The Quinter track meet is generally held on the final Friday in April. The competition is generally one of Kansas’ largest meets and mainly has 1-2A schools. This season, 23 teams signed up for Quinter. Fourteen squads tallied a point on the boys’ side, 16 for the girls.
Host Quinter won the boys’ crown with 71 points, and the Bulldogs captured the girls’ side with 51 points. Last fall, Quinter girls won 1A state cross country, and the boys were state runner-up. Hoxie collected a second-place boys’ showing with 51 points, and Dighton took third with 33.
Dighton, on the smaller end of school enrollments for the teams at Quinter, tied Hoxie for third for the girls with 35 points. Dighton enjoyed big showings from multiple athletes who are expected to contend for 1A state championships, including junior pole vaulter Max Neeley, and senior thrower Tomi Gall. Plus, Hornet junior Hector Wilkison beat a deep group of well-known athletes in the 100-meter dash. Wilkison has shifted into a sprinter after a sixth-place showing in the 800 at state.
Neeley captured the pole vault with a 14-foot clearance, a foot better than he did at the same meet last spring. Neeley is sixth in all classes and first in 1A with a 14-7 mark, per track historian Carol Swenson. The only other 1A vaulters to clear 13 feet are South Gray’s Brady Deges (13-9), Minneola’s Mason Pfaff (13-3) and Attica’s Xander Newberry (13-3). Deges was second, Newberry third and Pfaff sixth at ’21 state.
Wallace County sophomore Ja’Asia Stafford and Gall went 1-2 in the shot put. They have been ranked among the top-three 1A girl shot putters throughout the spring, according to Swenson. Stafford captured the shot put with a 39-foot mark. Gall was second at 38-10.5. In 2022, Stafford is eighth in Kansas and first in 1A with a season-best 40-5. Gall set a season-best with her throw at Quinter and now stands second in 1A.
Wilkison won the 100 with 11.43 seconds. Wheatland-Grinnell junior Jett Vincent, a significant football recruit and reigning Eight-Man, Division II Defensive Player of the Year, was second at 11.51. Five of the top-eight 100 runners were well-known all-state eight- or six-man football last fall.
Last spring, Neeley captured the 1A pole vault championship, the Hornets’ first individual boys’ track title since 2004, per KSHSAA results. No Dighton boy has won back-to-back state titles in an event since Jeff Dutoit accomplished the feat in pole vault in ’95-96.
The 5-foot-11 Neeley practices with the Tailwind Pole Vault Club, the highly acclaimed pole vaulting facility in Jamestown, Kan. and run by Dr. Mark Breault. Neeley is Dighton’s all-state quarterback who paced the Hornets to a massive turnaround and Eight-Man, Division II state quarterfinal showing last fall. Neeley is one of eight-man’s top players for 2021 and ’22.
Neeley’s grandfather pole vaulted at Oklahoma, and his dad, Steve, pole vaulted at Emporia State. His dad is Dighton’s pole vault coach. They attend multiple camps. Neeley won the 1A pole vault title last spring with a 14 feet, 3 inch clearance.
Dighton stopped having pole vaulting in the late ‘90s, and then was able to get it back when they passed a 12.2 million dollar bond that included new weight room, track and runways. Dighton coach Ken Simon said coach Neeley has done “an exceptional job” building the pole vaulting. Neeley passed for 995 yards, rushed for 1,588 and accounted for 46 touchdowns.
“He works like no other,” Simon told me last fall. “Here in the weight room, he’s a strong leader. He wants to do well. He loves to compete. His pole vaulting kind of runs in his blood.”
Gall has made huge improvements from last season. In 2021, she took ninth in the shot put at Quinter with a toss of 30-2.
Last season, Gall was ninth in the 1A shot put at 33-11.25 after she went 35-0.25 at regionals. Stafford is the reigning 1A state runner-up in the event.
Wilkison didn’t run in the 100 at the 2021 Quinter meet and finished sixth in the 400.
As well, Dighton senior Traci Cramer won the 100 hurdles in 16.86 at Quinter. Sophomore Charlie Koerner took third in the pole vault at 7-6. Senior Hanna Schultz finished third in the javelin with a toss of 111 feet.
Freshman Daniel Cramer was fifth in the triple jump at 37-1. Dighton junior Allie Von Leonrod was fourth in the triple jump at 31-4.75. Freshman Jack Jenkinson was sixth in the 100 at 12.03. Neeley was third in the high jump at 5-8, while Cramer tied for fourth at 5-6.
Dighton girls have not had a state placer since the Hornets took third as a team in 2017 behind legendary Hornets Sara Cramer and Jordan Speer. Both were highly decorated in multiple sports. Cramer was 1A-II basketball player of the year, Speer threw at Missouri and still holds the 1A shot put record.