Alanna Johnson of the High Point Panthers splashes down during the intermediate girls triple jump competition at the Russell E. Blunt East Coast Invitational on Friday. (The Herald-Sun/Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez)

Read more: The Herald-Sun - HITTING THEIR STRIDES
BY HAROLD GUTMANN;  919-419-6668 

DURHAM - Before Carla McLoughlin Boynton was a star sprinter at Northern High and the University of Tennessee, she competed for the Durham Striders youth track team. The highlight of her summers with the Striders was the Russell E. Blunt East Coast Invitational.

“If you could win or get to go to that meet, you really knew that you had the talent,” said Bonyton, who competed as Carla McLaughlin. “The level of competition was just phenomenal. It was to the point that you really felt you were a Junior Olympian.”

Boynton was back at the Blunt meet Friday, acting as a referee so that a new generation of Durham track and field athletes could experience the event.

“It was something that’s such a tradition in my youth years, and I wanted to give that back to the youth of today,” said Boynton, who also coaches 13 to 18-year-old sprinters for the Striders.

Friday was the first of three days of competition at Duke University’s Wallace Wade Stadium. Almost 2,000 participants ages 7-18 are expected to compete at the Blunt Meet, including more than 200 athletes from the Striders, who have won 10 straight team competitions.

The Striders were well represented on the leaderboard Friday. Jaylond Rogers set a meet record in the sub-bantam shot put with a toss of 17 feet, 6.75 inches (5.35 meters), beating the previous mark of 5.13 meters set by Kenya Hall of the Gastonia Eagles last year. The Strikers also went 1-2 in the youth girls triple jump, with Kayla Moore jumping 35-3.25 and Kenyae Austin going 33-0.25.

Chamia Rothwell won the 200 meter youth hurdles with a time of 28.18 seconds, and Francesca Evans won the young women triple jump with an attempt of 37-1.25.

Marcus Krah, a rising freshman at Hillside High and younger brother of Navy football player Myer Krah and Appalachian State freshman football player Aaron Krah, was runner-up to Justin Donawa of the Bermuda Pacers in the intermediate boys triple jump, but he set a personal best of 46.6.25. Krah set a 31-year-old national record in the youth boys triple jump last year (44-5.25) en route to winning three gold medals at the USATF National Junior Olympics. He hopes Friday’s performance will give him positive momentum as he heads back to nationals this week in Maryland.

“I had to believe in myself,” Krah said. “I got mad a little bit because I scratched a couple times, but I did great and hopefully I’ll do even better at nationals.”

The majority of the track competition will take place this weekend, but almost 270 runners who participated in the 200 meter dash semifinals Friday.

Isaiah Southerland, a student at Rogers-Herr Middle School in Durham who competes with the Triangle Champions, came from behind to win his heat in the 200 youth boys competition.

“I was kind of nervous at the starting line but then I saw someone in front of me, so I just used my form and it pushed me all the way through,” Southerland said. “I like (the 200) because it’s all about speed and endurance. There’s no slowing down or giving up. You have to give it your all.”

Khaleb McRae, who will be attending Shepard Middle School and runs for the Striders, wasn’t nervous before his race.

“It’s our meet, so we expect to do well and have momentum,” McRae said.

He prepared for his heat of the 200 midget boys by listening to Rhianna and Drake and following his coach’s advice - stay out of the heat and drink lots of water.

Boynton said that the steamy temperatures were another tradition from her youth.

“It’s always been one of the hottest weekends,” Boynton said. “That was definitely another memory - it was so hot.”

Spray machines and tents were set up throughout Wally Wade, and volunteers passed out cups of water to all the runners as soon as they crossed the finish line. The meet also ran ahead of schedule so that it ended before the late afternoon downpour.

The Blunt attracted an international field, with teams coming from Bermuda, Mexico and Puerto Rico.

“It’s a good developmental meet for our athletes,” said Cal Simons, the head coach of the Bermuda Pacers. “The organization, the friendliness of the people in Durham, even meeting and seeing some of the other track teams that we don’t normally see in Bermuda. I like it and the kids look forward to coming.”

Meet referee Lefty Martin has been volunteering at the event since 1978. He has refereed meets at the NCAA and national level, but is always impressed with the organization at the Blunt.

“It’s just one of the better meets in the country,” Martin said. “When the same people are doing the same thing year in and year out, you know you’re going to have a quality meet.”