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Coach standing by multi-event showcase


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 18, 2000

NEW PORT RICHEY -- Gulf girls track coach Dean Lofton isn't budging.

Today, the fifth annual Gulf Decathlon/Heptathlon will take place at Des Little Stadium as Lofton gives athletes from schools around the Tampa Bay area the chance to compete in an important segment of track and field that the state left behind in 1994. That's when the Florida High School Activities Association discontinued the sport.

Lofton said he doesn't know of another meet like it in the state.

Which is why he isn't about to give it up.

"Not until they decide to bring it back," he said.

That may not happen any time soon, but today's meet has become popular with some of the county's top athletes since it annually falls just days after the state track meet. It highlights those athletes who have toiled in multiple events throughout the season.

"You've got a lot of multi-event athletes around the area, and this is one way to showcase their skills," Lofton said. "I think it is definitely not for the one- or two-event superstar.

"They really overshadow those people who are getting third and fourth in the five events that they do, so I think this is a good meet for that kind of athlete."

The meet always arrives at an opportune time for local athletes as well.

Coming days after the state meets, it gives those who didn't perform up to their own expectations one more chance to excel.

Sometimes the pressure of medaling at state erodes an athlete's performance. But today's meet always is one of the most relaxed of the season.

Lofton is no longer surprised when an impressive time, leap or vault is turned in at the Gulf Decathlon/Heptathlon.

"There have been some outstanding performances at the end of the season," Lofton said. "We've had a 15-foot pole vault and a 6-10 high jump."

After a disappointing state meet, River Ridge pole vaulter Mike Wolfe qualified for the prestigious Bert W. Smith Golden South Classic with a 15-foot vault last year. Pasco's Roosevelt Miller turned in a 6-6 high jump. Hudson's Crystal Videgar defended her title and set a meet record with 3,691 points over the two-day event.

Two teams will get the chance to defend their titles today: Hudson won the team heptathlon last season with 8,376 points, and Sarasota Riverview won the decathlon with 13,727 points.

"I wouldn't do it unless I liked doing it," Lofton said. "I enjoy putting on an event like this. I like watching those good multi-event people.

"Everyone comes in well-rested, and some of them have had really good times, jumps and throws at this thing."

Today's meet also will settle the score between two protagonists from last season. Gulf boys track coach Bill Linderman, who will coach boys basketball at River Ridge next season, has repeatedly challenged Land O'Lakes' junior distance runner Scott Habershaw to a rematch.

Last year, Linderman bested Habershaw at nine of the decathlon's events. But when the 1,600 rolled around, Habershaw lapped Linderman, and the coach has been promising revenge all season long.

"My money's on Habershaw," Lofton said.

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