As is the norm, the Blair track and field team qualified a large number of athletes to compete during the state championship meet in Omaha.
What came as bit of a surprise was the number of the 15-qualified Bears that earned Class B state medals May 17-18 — zero.
“It's probably been 20-plus years (since that happened),” BHS coach Darren Harsin said Sunday morning. “That was very different. Very strange.”
Standout junior Sam Lueders pulled out of the 3,200-meter run due to injury, while Evan Slominski, Tristan Jacobsen and Adam Brehm finished just shy of medal contention in their events.
“Every time we turned around, we were just coming up short,” Harsin said.
The state meet, however, was just an extension of what was an adversity-filled season for the Blair track squad. Weather, injuries and a disciplinary situation or two impacted the Bears' progress.
For Harsin, it's certainly a season he'll remember. There were highs and lows on the track for the recently retired BHS teacher, but also a life-altering health situation off of it.
'This one is working'
After practice on Saturday, April 13, coach Harsin had a routine message for his Bears.
“I told them I'd see them Monday,” he said.
But life can be more complicated than anyone can expect.
On that Monday morning, April 15, Harsin was getting ready to mow his lawn when he started to feel wrong. There was numbness in his arms and he knew to get help.
The coach wound up at CHI Health Immanuel Medical Center in Omaha — just 10 miles from Omaha Burke Stadium, the site of the state track meet — where doctors discovered his blocked artery. He wound up having a second heart attack at the hospital.
After an operation, Harsin was allowed to go home Wednesday — a day before the Fred Arnold Invitational in Schuyler. He watched the results come in online, but was back in the hospital the next day with heart failure.
Near the end of April, Harsin felt well enough to attend the Mike Lehl Invitational at Krantz Field, but again he wound up in the hospital for another needed surgery not long after.
“This one is working,” he said Sunday, feeling much better.
Blair Bears rally
All the while he was facing heart issues, Harsin's coaching staff — Norm Svoboda, Bryan Soukup, Jennifer Fangmeier, Jason Meggison, Eric Dolezal, Taylor Jensen and Matt Novak included — had his back.
“The coaching staff was great,” he said. “There really wasn't a hiccup.”
Any work or planning that the head coach missed out on, his BHS staff handled. They told him they could cover for the rest of the season if need be.
“It speaks well of the family atmosphere we have on the staff,” Harsin said. “I knew the kids were in good hands.”
And those Bears excelled. Lueders, though he was unable to compete at state, finished the season with the fastest recorded Class B 3,200 run time — 9:43.22 — of the spring. The 3,200 relay team of Ethan Funk, Slominski, Brehm and Lueders also finished with the second-fastest time in Class B.
In addition, Blair qualified 15 athletes to the state championships, which is just one less than Fort Calhoun and Arlington did combined.
“Sports are kind of a microcosm of life,” Harsin said, which is why coaches used his health issues as a lesson for their team. The Bears fought through tough times and still delivered a season the coach said he'll remember for more than just his heart.
“From top to bottom, we are getting effort out of our kids,” he said, noting, perhaps, a shortage of naturally-gifted athletes BHS has had in the past. “(But) these kids still worked hard.”