March 3, 2024 Local Stories in and Around St. Joseph, Illinois

SJO boys’ track and field looks to build upon past success

Jason Retz is no stranger to success when it comes to St.Joseph-Ogden High School athletics.


The sixth-year coach of the Spartans’ boys’ track and field program oversaw SJO win sectional titles in 2014 and 2016. He’s also coached both cross-country programs at SJO since 2014, helping the Spartans win five state trophies in that span, including Class 1A girls’ cross-country state championships in 2014 and 2016.


So if the Spartans can add hardware to a program that has achieved 10 top-10 state finishes in their history, including state titles in 1993 and 2000, then Retz is all for it this spring.


“It would be the culmination of all our groups, from sprinters, distance and field, working together and performing at their best all on one day,” Retz said. “There is nothing better than team success. Having done it many times, I can tell you it’s a lot of fun.”


SJO gets to start working towards that ultimate goal of postseason success at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday when the Spartans host Danville, Monticello, Rantoul and Urbana in a five-team meet. It’s one of two home meets that SJO will have this regular season, along with the annual Spartan Classic on April 26.

SJO will travel to Rantoul twice, first on April 6 for the Rantoul Invitational and then again on April 9 for a quadrangular meet with the host Eagles, Champaign Central and Clinton. The Monticello Invitational (April 12), Unity Invitational (April 19), the Illini Prairie Conference Meet (April 30) at Bloomington Central Catholic, the Clinton Carnival (May 3) and the Bulldog Invitational at Mahomet-Seymour (May 11). This is all a buildup to the 1A sectional that SJO will host on May 17, with spots at the state meet on May 23 at O’Brien Field on the campus of Eastern Illinois University at stake.

“We are very lucky in central Illinois to see some of the best competition in the state and race against larger schools than ourselves such and Monticello and Unity on a regular basis,” Retz said. “Being one of the smallest schools in the conference, it is fun to compete against such great competition. We’ll look forward to competing for the conference championship at BCC later in the season.”


SJO returns one individual state qualifier from the 2018 season and five other individuals who were part of state-qualifying relays last spring.
Seniors Lane Gaskin and Kaleb Harshbarger return, along with sophomore Brady Buss. Those three all were a part of the 1,600-meter relay team that finished eighth at last year’s state meet.


Seniors Joel Branson and Dwight Colvin also give the Spartans talented options in the sprints after the duo, along with Buss, were on last year’s state-qualifying 400 relay.


“We are excited about what our sprint crew is bringing to us this year,” Retz said. “We should have many that contribute to our sprint relays, and we may have as many as nine or 10 individuals fighting to fill our sprint relays.”


Sophomore Hayden Knott should help anchor the throws after he qualified for state in the discuss as a freshman, while Nolan Peacock should provide SJO a lift in the pole vault.


Seniors Nathan Emmert, Isiah McCune, Aiden Meyer, Hanson Reiches and Keanen Swanson give the Spartans a solid group of returning contributors, while juniors Brayden Grimsey and Eric Poe, along with sophomores Brandon Mattsey and Aaron Wagner-Dillman, can add experienced depth.


It has all the makings of what could be a team that sends several state qualifiers to Charleston in late May and leaves its own mark on this tradition-rich program’s history.


“I believe in the moment coaches, athletes, fans and parents don’t understand how good they have it until it’s over,” Retz said. “As coaches we set very high expectations, and I’m not sure there can be any higher expectation put on our athletes. They have one opportunity to get the most out of this sport they can Their opportunity to leave their stamp on this program is what they will be working for. If they continue to work hard, they will have that opportunity before they walk off the track for the last time.”

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