Track: Guts, glory and fan appreciationCarl Heinz of Oak Park-River Forest waves to the crowd after his final attmept to clear the bar in 3A high jump. Heinz finished first place. Patrick Gleason ~ For Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 1, 2012 10:26AM
O’Brien Field in Charleston, the home of the IHSA track and field state meet, has a listed seating capacity of 10,000.
Most of those seats were filled last Saturday afternoon for the boys finals and many of those fans were on their feet clapping for a pair of performers in particular — for very different reasons.
One was Oak Park-River Forest high jumper Carl Heinz. To say Heinz is a bit of a showman is to say we went through a bit of a hot spell last week.
The high jump is a quirky event that, like its sibling the pole vault, tends to attract more than its fair share of individualists. So the lanky senior fits right in.
Heinz owns the national high school season best in the event at 7 feet, 1 inch, but he’s not the only big-time jumper in Illinois this season. Marmion’s Peter Stefanski went a sectional-best 7-0, while Lake Park’s Kevin Spejcher was the indoor state champ at 6-10 and went 6-11 outdoors.
“I know Spejcher has done well, I know Stefanski has jumped well,” Heinz said afterward. “So my goal for the day was to just put on the Carl Show. Don’t worry about anything else, you know you’re the top jumper in the nation.”
The words sound cocky, even arrogant. But Heinz delivers them in such a disarming way that they just seem like the confidence you’d expect from a proven performer.
The competition went on with Heinz mostly passing. Spejcher and Grant’s Jonathan Wells went out after clearing 6-9, while Stefanski and Conant’s Ben Bowers were eliminated after making 6-10.
Heinz made that and matched his national best at 7-1. Then the bar went up to 7-3.5, the state record set by Heyworth’s Tom Smith in 1985. As Heinz lined up for his first attempt, he started clapping his hands over his head like some band’s front man.
Fans picked up the cue and as he sprinted toward the bar, it seemed like the entire crowd was applauding and willing him toward the record.
He missed that attempt and two more. But regrets are not Heinz’s way.
“I think I just put it out there to say to my kid one day, ‘I tried to break the state record.’ ’’
Derick Suss also has a story to tell his children: one of courage and perseverance.
He’s a senior member of Plainfield North’s 1,600-meter relay team. The Tigers were right in the mix when Suss, running the third leg, suddenly fell to the track on the south curve.
“The Minooka guy came around me and I tried to stay right behind him,” Suss said. “Last year I was out the entire season with a right hamstring strain and it just blew up.
“It exploded and I fell. There was nothing I could do.”
Medical personnel were there to help Suss off the track and to the trainer’s tent for treatment. But he had other ideas.
He got back up, and started hopping and limping the rest of the way around the track to get the baton to anchor runner Evan Flagg. Why? Because if Suss dropped out, the Tigers’ all-senior relay wouldn’t get a state medal.
Seeing what was going on, the fans rose and gave Suss maybe the biggest ovation of the day. “I heard the crowd,” he said. “It was hard to run, but it wasn’t hard to finish.”
Suss got the baton to Flagg, who completed the race. The Tigers finished ninth in 5:47.44, more than two minutes behind eighth-place Evanston.
“You always want better, but stuff happens,” Suss said. “I made it through the entire season. I had to make it back here because I couldn’t be sitting in the stands like I was last year. So I was taking it easy, kind of, until May. Then I was going all out.”
Even if the stopwatch said differently, he still was as he gutted out that one last lap of his high school career.
With Suss as they did with Heinz, the fans knew a winner when they saw one.