MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – It’s a dream for West Virginia track and field athletes to graduate at the state meet in May. Because of COVID-19, that dream is dashed – a common theme every runner or field event specialist has to come to terms with.
Morgantown High’s Cameron Johnson, a hurdler, and Hunter Finn, a long jumper, feel the effects on a different level.
“You kind of knew it was coming and had to happen, but you have always hope to spend a few more weeks or months with the people you really like,” Johnson said. “That’s the most meaningful part about it, being around so many people who were like me and had a common goal like me. [Plus] having coaches like [Steve] Blinco, [Beth] Getty and [Jamie] Dalton. That’s what made it worthwhile, so I was disappointed my time with them was cut short.
“I was looking forward to [graduating at the state track meet] the most. A normal graduation you walk up and shake the principal’s hand, and I’m not going to lie, I’ve never talked to the principal. I’ve spent the last four years with Mr. Blinco, and for me to be able to shake his hand and walk across the field, that would have been priceless.”
“The seniors, I am crushed for them,” Dalton said. “Cam Johnson had invested his. entire winter with a running club [and] Hunter Finn was ready to go after a long jump title. All [the seniors] had been working hard and had an eye on the prize. They all came together. They were pushing each other in a good way that makes everyone better. We say iron sharpens iron and they were truly living that. We had a lot of potential under their leadership.”
Though both are going to college, Johnson decided to forgo joining any sanctioned college track team. Rather, he wants to focus on his studies – he’s going to study immunology and medical microbiology at WVU – but says he’s going to look into the club team since the Mountaineers don’t have a men’s track team.
“I had some good opportunities lined up at WVU and I didn’t want to miss those,” Johnson said, “but I really did enjoy track.”
Specializing in the 110-meter sprint hurdles since 6th grade, Johnson also moved on to the 110-meter shuttle relay and the 300-meter hurdles. But his time hasn’t just been spent on the outdoor track. For the last four years, Johnson has been taking part in the indoor track season hosted by WVU every November to the start of the high school season in March. This time and effort was hopefully going to culminate for Johnson and his hurdles team this year, as they were poised for a state title run according to Johnson.
While Finn’s specialization is off the track and in the sand pit, he’s still feeling the pains of missing out on his senior track season, especially because the last two years have helped him develop his skills on the gridiron.
“Halfway through junior year, I realized I could compete [at a high level] in the state,” Finn said. “That’s when I began to take it seriously. It was something that could make me faster and a better athlete for football. Honestly, at the end of that year, I began to like track more than football. Overall, I think it was more fun and more laid back. There’s a lot more to enjoy about it sometimes.”
Though Finn’s dedication to track and field is deeper than just an extra season to train, he ultimately decided to sign with the University of Charleston to play wide receiver after a successful high school career. Still, it’s hard for him to come to terms with losing his final season.
“When it first happened, I thought we’d have a chance,” he said. “Coach Dalton was always giving us hope, and I was hopeful [we’d have a season]. When it was official that the track season was over, it was upsetting. The writing was on the wall, but for my senior year track season to go away was very upsetting.”
Although a tough time, both have their ways to decompress. Johnson owns a road bike and hits the Mon River Rail Trail and Deckers Creek Rail Trail with his friend and teammate Nate Wimer, riding either to Fairmont, Point Marion or Reedsville once a week.
“My sort of therapy [is going] on rides,” he said. “It’s a good way to stay in shape and go out and appreciate things while we have them. We like putting in the miles – it’s a good distraction.”
To prepare for his upcoming football season, Finn has been focusing on a high protein diet and stretching the bench press in his basement as much as possible. Bench presses are a given, but he’s been using the bench for leg workouts, too.
“I do what I can to get as much of a workout in with what I have,” Finn said. “[Without a gym] I do longer workouts. I don’t have anything else to do or other time requirements, so I can do a 2-hour workout if I want to.”
The University of Charleston’s first game is Sept. 10 at Mountain East Conference foe Fairmont State.