Panther track celebrates season

Hanks, Lewis earn L.A. Kohnke Most Deserving Award

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It was a season for the books for the Powell High School track teams, as athletes, coaches and parents gathered recently to celebrate their accomplishments.

Bolstered by a record-breaking 111 athletes turning out for the program this spring, the Panthers and Lady Panthers combined for 65 varsity letters earned. The teams qualified 36 athletes for the Wyoming State Meet in May, with 23 returning home with medals.

“The more we look at, we’re really happy with the way things turned out this season,” said PHS head coach Scott Smith. “Our seniors, who had been with us for a while, had good success and went out on a high note. And of course we have a lot of young kids coming back. We finished strong and are really set up well for next year. We’re looking forward to that.”

Smith is losing a fair number of athletes to graduation, many of whom had competed for the long-time coach since their freshman year. Smith said it’s always hard to bid farewell to the seniors, and this year’s group were “a bunch of special kids.”

“All of these kids have done a really nice job of giving everything they had,” Smith said. “You look at a kid like A.J. [Lewis], he’s just always smiling, always happy. He’s infectious that way. JuliaKay [O’Neill], she’s just fun to watch run. They all have their individual characteristics. ... You hate to see kids go, but you know it’s time to move on.”

Smith said he’s excited with the younger kids returning, as well as a talented bunch from the middle school who will transition to high school track next spring.

“The numbers were so good that just the competitiveness of the team, they made each other better,” Smith said. “Some of our better races to watch were some of our practices. These kids are teammates and best friends, but they really like to compete with each other, and that’s always fun to watch.”

After letters were handed out, team awards were presented. Caitlyn Miner and Sabrina Shoopman were named most improved for the Lady Panthers, while Kaelan Groves received the honor for the Panthers.

The Jim Miller Memorial Award, given to athletes who constantly strive to do their best, was awarded to Hailee Paul and Jayden Yates.

The Mitch Myrick Memorial Award, given for outstanding achievement in field events, was awarded to Jazlyn Haney and the boys’ duo of Ryan Good and Dylan Preator.

O’Neill and Brody Karhu were named Outstanding State Meet Performers — established to honor individual athletes who rise to the occasion at the state meet through dedication and hard work.

The L.A. Kohnke Most Deserving Award — annually presented to the athletes who exhibit the hard work, skill improvement, cooperation, citizenship, sportsmanship, scholarship and a positive attitude towards track and their team — went to Maddy Hanks and A.J. Lewis.

“These are all quality kids that are a lot of fun to be around,” Smith said. “It’s kind of a culture in track that we’ve had in Powell, since before even I was there, to be honest, that these kids just really work hard to make each other better. They’re truly happy for each other when they’re successful. You like to see that.”

Asked if a particular memory from this season would stay with him the most, Smith said it’s the flashes of genuine emotion he’ll remember.

“What I think about right now is about 10 different kids’ smiles,” he said. “When a kid has that great performance that they never thought they could do, that smile they get — that’s what I’ll remember. When you see kids that recognize that they’ve done something big, that’s what makes it fun.”

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