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Falcons focus on future, not on near-miss

By SCOTT PURKS

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 8, 2001


TAMPA -- This year's Leto boys track team couldn't beat its Class of 2000 squad, but then again, only one team did. Barely.

Last year's Falcons came within a half a point of winning the Class 3A state title, losing 52 1/2-52 to Pensacola Woodham in the meet's last event.

"One-half point ... " Leto coach Dean Robertson said. "I've thought of a thousand ways we could have made up that half-point. Man, so close. ... But now we have to move on."

This doesn't mean Leto is down, though. Far from it. Participation is up, and talent is waiting to bust out.

Leading the way are do-everything athletes Terrance McKennon and Jon Shepherd, whose best events are the hurdles.

"It's great because we have each other to compete against every day in practice," McKennon said. "At some other schools, an athlete might not have that competition at practice going for him.

"But you always have that at Leto."

You also have Robertson and five assistants teaching technique in every single event.

"We've always had a bunch of former athletes come back to practices and help out with coaching," Robertson said.

"I think everybody wants to keep the track tradition going here."

Behind all of it, and no one disputes it, is Bob Ennis, who guided Leto to nine state cross country championships but now works only a couple of days a week with the track team, mostly with the hurdlers.

"We are well aware that coach Ennis is a legend, and we have no doubt he knows what he's talking about," Shepherd said. "We listen to everything he says, and we work on it.

"Because of the coaching we get here, I wouldn't want to be any other place than Leto. I'm very proud to be a part of this program."

Robertson said he expects to be competitive with Wharton and King this season, but he might give the preseason advantage to Wharton.

"Wharton returns a bunch of athletes from last year's team, which was very good," Robertson said. "Then they got this transfer (Dwight Ellick) who won the New York state 100-meter title last season. With (Ellick), they should probably be the team to beat."

But just because Leto graduated several state title contenders -- including Mike Jenkins, who broke school records in the triple jump (47 feet, 1 inch) and 400 meters (48.79 seconds) -- don't count Leto out in 2001.

Who knows? Maybe first-year sprinter Walter Tate might break out. Or perhaps it will be sophomore distance runners Josh Salas and Coe Federenko who put up surprising winning times.

"We'll be there," McKennon said. "Leto's coaches always get the most out of their athletes."

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