ALTOONA — Cody Bytner saved his best for last, quite literally. And the Penns Manor triple jumper earned himself a steak dinner.
Meanwhile, Joe Price didn’t have his best, but the Purchase Line senior saved face.
Bytner and Price, along with Homer-Center’s Jared Nealey and Ligonier Valley’s Brandon Dickert, claimed individual titles Tuesday at the District 6 Class AA Track and Field Championships to highlight the local contingent at the last meet before the PIAA Championships.
“It has a little bit of a ring to it. I like it,” Nealey said of his new title, District 6 pole vault champion.
Nealey’s first-place finish was the first district title for the Homer-Center boys’ team in any event since 2003, according to the coaching staff.
In total, 14 area boys and two relay teams qualified for the PIAA meet to give the Heritage Conference a strong showing at the district meet.
The last jumper in the finals of the triple jump, Bytner was down to his last attempt.
He delivered on the last jump of the competition, leaping 44 feet, 2 inches to win the district title, break the Penns Manor school record and set a personal-best all at the same time.
It was the first time he’d ever cracked the 44-foot plateau, a respected mark at the high school level. But more importantly, he broke the school record his jumping coach, Dan Barnes, held since the 1970s.
That was significant in more ways than the obvious.
“My jumping coach, Mr. Barnes, said if anyone gets a jumping record, he’ll take us out for a steak dinner,” Bytner said. “So I’m looking forward to that.”
After the showing he had in the shot put, Price wasn’t exactly looking forward to showing his face at home.
The youngest of three brothers, all of them standout throwers at Purchase Line, he was looking for his first district title to add to the three his older brother Jim won from 2001 to 2003.
He entered the district meet as the top seed in the shot put and expected to add to the family collection of District 6 trophies.
Eventually, he did that, but it didn’t start out promising.
Price began his day by qualifying for the PIAA meet with a second-place finish in the shot put, but he was not pleased. His best throw of 47-8 1/2 on a wet and chilly afternoon was more than 3 feet under his season best.
“I’m very disappointed with how I performed in the shot put,” he said. “That was way under what I expected and what I’ve basically performed all year.”
Much to his relief, he salvaged the day by winning the discus title with a throw of 136-0, but he came away more disappointed he didn’t come home with two golds than he was excited about the one he did earn.
“Basically, I was going into discus thinking if I didn’t win discus, I might as well not even come home,” Price said. “When my brother Jimmy came today, I looked over and I asked if he had his three district rings on for discus. I was really hoping to get two district rings out of today.”
It was a familiar foe who snatched the gold from Price in the shot put, Heritage Conference rival Dickert, from Ligonier Valley. In fact, Heritage Conference competitors swept the top three spots.
Dickert won with a throw of 48-6 1/2, Price was second and Homer-Center senior Mike Newhouse was third with a distance of 47-6 1/4.
Price was one of two area boys to qualify for the PIAA meet in multiple events along with Ligonier Valley’s Justin Piper.
A newcomer to the Heritage Conference and District 6 this season, Homer-Center’s Nealey gave the conference a rare title in the pole vault, an event in which the conference hasn’t been strong traditionally.
In fact, the top two spots went to Heritage Conference vaulters, as Northern Cambria’s Gus Yahner took second.
Nealey cleared 14 feet for the fourth straight week at a big meet, and said he feels good about his consistency. But he still thinks he can go higher.
“I came in with high expectations for myself,” he said. “I wanted to go higher than 14-0, but the weather wasn’t too great. … When it starts raining, I worry about getting heights that I’ve always gotten before. As long as I stay consistent, I consider it a good day, and with the rain, it was a pretty good day for me.”
Nealey will be making his first trip to the state championships, and he’ll also run a leg of Homer-Center’s 1,600-relay team, which also qualified with a third-place finish. The other members of the Wildcats’ relay team are Levi McCracken, Devin Zayac and John Capitosti.
“It hasn’t hit me yet, but on the bus ride there, I know I’ll start getting nervous and the butterflies. But I like big meets like that,” Nealey said.
Piper qualified in the 110- and 300-meter hurdles and also ran on the Rams’ 1,600-meter relay team, which qualified with a second-place finish. The Rams’ relay team also features Nathan Crusan, Dylan Jackman and Jonathan Finger.
Though a senior, Piper is only in his second season of track and field after deciding to join the team last spring.
“It turned out to be a good decision,” he said.
As one of the top seeds in the 300 hurdles, it was no huge surprise Piper took second in the event. But considering he had the 10th-fastest seeded time entering the 110 hurdles preliminaries, his third-place finish was a bit of a head-turner.
“I knew I was going to have to run the race of my life in the 110s to get in,” Piper said. “I did pretty well. It’s exciting.”
Piper used to spend his spring lifting weights for football. But last year, he gave track and field a try and saw success immediately.
He was on Ligonier Valley’s state-qualifying 1,600-meter relay team last season and got a taste of the PIAA Championships. This year, he’s going in three events, and he can’t wait.
“To go in two more events is just awesome,” he said.
After missing out on the PIAA meet as a junior, United senior Shawn Lichvar is making a return trip to cap his high school career.
Lichvar was a member of a Lions’ relay team that qualified two years ago, but this time he’ll be going individually in the 800-meter run.
He took second with a personal-best time of 2:00.20 to punch his ticket to Shippensburg.
“It’s crazy. It’s unbelievable,” he said. “All the hard work and dedication from my coaches has been amazing, and it’s led up to this. It’s incredible. It’s a great way to end your senior year.”
Lichvar was one of three area athletes to take second in his event, along with Saltsburg’s Mitchel Yard in the javelin (165-0) and Northern Cambria’s Derek Bearer in the 400 (52.08 seconds).
Claiming third-place finishes to qualify for the PIAA meet were: Homer-Center’s McCracken in the 300 hurdles (41.55) and Cody Miller in the discus (130-1); and Northern Cambria’s Evan Ludwig in the javelin (162-10) and Tyler Olish in the high jump (6-0).
This story edited at 1 p.m. May 15 to correct the name of coach Dan Barnes.