Super Hawks: Shorter wins NAIA Men's Outdoor Track title
MARION, Ind. -- As if its championship at the indoor national meet wasn't enough, the Shorter University men's track and field team had another golden opportunity at the 2011 NAIA Outdoor Track and Field Championship to erase any doubt that it was the cream of the crop in the NAIA.
The Hawks did just that.
Powered by four individual national championships and a host of record-setting performances, Shorter captured the NAIA Men's Outdoor Track and Field national championship as the three-day national meet concluded on a rain-soaked Saturday in Marion, Ind.
Freshman Paul Chelimo won a pair of individual titles in the 5,000 and 10,000, sophomore Travis Benton snatched his first individual national championship by winning the 100-meter dash and senior Nick Dodson finally broke his string of three runner-up finishes with a title in the 400 hurdles as Shorter completed the rare indoor-outdoor double to confirm its status as the nation's premier track and field program.
"This championship means so much to our athletes, our coaches and to the Shorter University athletic department," said Shorter head coach Scott Byrd, who added an NAIA Men's Outdoor Track and Field National Coach of the Year honor to the Indoor National Coach of the Year accolade he garnered earlier in the year. "Five years ago, Shorter didn't have a track team, but it was [President Dr. Harold Newman's] vision to start this track program. Being able to win both an indoor and outdoor title in Dr. Newman's last year is exactly what we wanted to do for him.
"From day one, Dr. Newman, [Director of Athletics] Bill Peterson and the entire administration has backed us 100 percent and without that backing, none of this would have ever happened," Byrd added. "That support has been instrumental in the growth of our program."
Shorter's men had won three straight Mid-South Conference outdoor championships prior to the start of the 2010-11 academic year.
They added the school's first-ever NAIA national championship with the victory at the 2011 NAIA Indoor Championships in March, but even after the Hawks made it four-in-a-row at the Mid-South Championships in April, Byrd still felt that Shorter needed an outdoor championship to finally be considered, once and for all, among the elite.
"To win this outdoor national championship solidifies the program," said Byrd, who was named the NAIA Men's Outdoor Track and Field National Coach of the Year. "We knew that the indoor championship wasn't a fluke and now, everybody else knows.
"Our athletes have demonstrated that they are the best in the country right now," Byrd added. "Too many times the head coach gets too much credit; all of these athletes worked so hard and our coaching staff worked hours and hours to make this happen."
Entering this week's championships, Shorter's men had never had an athlete win a national title at the outdoor championships.
Chelimo proved to be the icebreaker, setting the tone on Thursday by winning the 10,000-meter run in 29:44. Benton followed suit the next day, finishing first in the 100-meter dash final by .002 seconds, and the Hawks suddenly had two athletes to boast as national champions.
Their best was saved for Saturday's action.
Chelimo's second title of the week, a relatively easy win in the 5,000-meter run in 14:07, sealed the championship for Shorter. The 5,000 was the second-to-last event of the national meet and those 10 points from Chelimo put the Hawks at 66, seven points ahead of Doane College, which was out of entries by that time of the meet.
This type of outburst was simply a matter of time, especially for one Hawk in particular.
Senior Nick Dodson had come so close to a gold medal in the 400 hurdles in each of his last three visits to the national meet. The four-time Mid-South Conference champion and multiple All-American had posted three straight national runner-up finishes, none more heartbreaking than last year's defeat by .19 seconds.
This was Dodson's year.
Dodson finally got his national championship by running the best race of his career, crossing the line in a school record time of 50.84 to beat runner-up Junior Hines of Missouri Baptist (51.39) by nearly one second.
"It is overwhelming to watch a young man battle so much adversity, but continue to come back each time and work hard and finally achieve his goal," said an emotional Byrd when referring to one of his four original team members in Dodson, who helped form the foundation of the Shorter track program.
"To watch Nick -- he embodies this entire team," Byrd added. "It would have been really easy for him to just lay down after laying it all out there every year because I know how badly it hurt him when it didn't happen. But Nick is the definition of a winner and I know how hard he has worked to keep coming back and continue to fight."
Shorter entered the final day of competition trailing Doane by 10, but rode a wealth of clutch performances from its deepest roster ever to the championship.
Benton ran to a third place finish in the 200-meter dash in a time of 20.11 for six big points. The 4x100-meter foursome of Dodson, Benton, Shaun Kennedy and Nigel Talton raced to a runner-up finish in the final in 40.05, just missing the school record of 40.04 that they had set in Friday's semifinal heat.
Randall Dameron placed sixth in the 400 in a school record time of 46.903 to contribute three points as Shorter posted 37 points on Saturday to surge to the top of the leaderboard.
For Byrd, it is that type of determination and resiliency that he will remember most about this special group that has secured its own permanent place in Shorter's athletic history.
"They came here five years ago with nothing," Byrd said. "We have never had our own place to practice, we have had to drive 25 minutes every day to practice at a middle or high school. This is the most unselfish group that you could imagine and I will always remember the sacrifices these kids made to turn a track team into a track program.
"The sacrifices our athletes and coaches have made -- I have never been a part of anything quite like this," the coach added. "I am grateful to have had this opportunity and am blessed to have been a part of a group of young men and women that represent Shorter so well."