Under the bright lights of Bulleit Stadium, the Columbus East and Seymour track and field teams circled the high jump in frigid temperatures last Tuesday.
Huddled in blankets and dawning winter jackets, the teams weren’t quite ready to retreat inside to warmth, as East’s T.C. O’Neal and Seth Ragon dueled for the highest leap.
With the bar at 6-4, Ragon planted his feet at the white markers on the track, hit his J-turn and proceeded to clear almost two inches over the minimum height.
The crowd erupted, and one Seymour coach spun around with a yell in excitement as the smartphones on the sidelines recorded.
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Ragon never broke his concentration as he rose from the mat with a stoic demeanor on his face.
Standing at 6-2, Ragon easily set a new personal best.
While he would tie in height in the event, O’Neal would emerge victorious on misses at the meet in Seymour.
Last year, Ragon made it to the state track and field meet at Indiana University thanks to a scratch from an opposing jumper.
At the regional, Ragon had cleared 6-2 with the goal of clearing 6-4.
This season, Ragon doesn’t want to leave any room for error in returning to IU.
“I think my ultimate goal is 6-6 this year,” Ragon said. “If I go over 6-6, I should be able to get to state without having someone else jump out. I’ve been trying to look at my mistakes from last year and work on those things this year. I’ve been watching videos on high jumpers — just trying to get better.”
Prior to the inaugural meet, Ragon hadn’t jumped over more than six feet in practice.
“For him to start at 6-4 to begin the season like that, it’s very impressive,” Owls boys coach Randy Fife said. “I thought he would get 6-0 or 6-1 in the first one. It give him a lot of room for improvement. He’s already where I was hoping he would be midway through the year. He’s more physical this year — stronger.
“I think it give him confidence. He wanted to move his marks back a little but was worried about doing it between jumps. As he gets fined-tuned, I expect him to improve. If we can tack on two inches, that probably gets him back to the state meet.”
Playing on the varsity basketball team, Ragon didn’t have much time for preparation between seasons.
However, until the recent break in weather, Ragon did get to practice outdoors a handful of times before the meet with East.
“I didn’t have much of an opportunity to do any track during the basketball season,” Ragon said. “I’ve been dialing-in on my form. I’m hitting it hard, and it hasn’t been too hard getting back into it which is kind of surprising.”
Owls high jump coach Brad Cobb said that Ragon could have cleared an even higher bar with his 6-4 jump.
“If we look at how he did during that meet, the jump where he cleared 6-4, I think he would have gotten 6-6,” he said. “I want him to be above 6-6 and push to 6-8.
“He has been a little tight. He works as a sprinter, an all-around athlete. It was his first real night of jumping the higher heights.”
Cobb said that Ragon will have to raise the bar to return to state.
“He will have to hit 6-6 to get (to state) and be competitive,” Cobb said. “His PR last year was what they started at in the state competition. I think that was an eye-opener for him. I’m looking forward to watching him progress. He’s a leader here, working with the younger kids. A lot of our jumpers look up to him.”
In Thursday’s meet against Bedford North Lawrence and Jennings County, Ragon just needed 6-3 for the win.