Plainfield Boys Track Takes Home 2021-2022 IHSAA State Title
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Brian Pelkey attended high school in the mid-1970s, when he was a distance runner and a huge fan of the legendary runner Steve Prefontaine, who influenced both his training program and his facial stylings.
“I still have the mustache,” Pelkey says with a chuckle.
Like Prefontaine, Pelkey appreciated old-fashioned hard work in order to improve his craft. He also loved the camaraderie of the sport.
“On the easy runs I loved running with my teammates and bouncing things off each other,” Pelkey says. It’s been a few years since he graduated from high school, but now, as the track coach at Plainfield High School (PHS), Pelkey says coaching and teaching teenagers keeps him young.
This year marks Pelkey’s 42nd year of teaching and coaching in the Plainfield Community School Corporation, including nine at the old PHS Junior-Senior High School, 13 at Plainfield Community Middle School and 20 at PHS. Pelkey, who teaches senior government and current events, has also coached girls track for the past 11 years.
“What’s nice about track is that everything is measurable,” he says. “It’s not like you’re deciding who’s going to be your starting point guard or your quarterback. You just look at your times and your heights for your top two.”
Additionally, everyone on the team can experience success throughout the season.
“Athletes can see, without a doubt, that they’re improving,” Pelkey says. In 2021 the boys team finished seventh in the state, so at the start of last season, Pelkey created a goal for the team – to finish in the top five in the state.
During last year’s indoor season, they had two relay teams that kept getting better and better. They finished second at the indoor state meet – the highest the school had ever finished.
When they got to the outdoor season, they were running and jumping well. They got beat by Brownsburg in a triangular meet in April. Although Brownsburg beat Plainfield, PHS went on to win the Lawrence Central invitational meet as well as the Pike invitational. PHS won the boys Mid-State conference meet. Then they got to sectionals and got beat by Brownsburg by 49 points. PHS came in second.
“After sectionals we were ranked fifth in the state and Brownsburg beat us by one point in the regional, so they were ranked first in the state and we were ranked second going into the state finals,” says Pelkey, who knew that this was their chance, this was their season and this was their moment to shine. “We needed to run really well in the trials and we did that.”
Connor Maple made it in the 100 meters. He also made it in the 200 meters, as did Nayyir Newash-Campbell. Harrison Hrbek not only made it in the hurdles, but also won his heat. Newash-Campbell won his heat in the 200 meters and set a school record. Pelkey knew at that point that they would be first or second.
“In other sports you can create your own luck by being a great defensive team, but in track it comes down to how other people do,” Pelkey says.
Although Brownsburg was ahead coming out of the 400 meters, Newash-Campbell won the 400, and then PHS placed seventh in the hurdles while Brownsburg placed first in both hurdles races, making it a tight race going into the 200 meters. Pelkey thought they might win that race, but instead their athletes came in third and eighth. Although they didn’t rank as well as anticipated, they still scored nine points and were ahead by six points going into the 4×400-meter relay.
“We knew we had to beat Brownsburg in that relay, but their kids were running really well,” Pelkey says. “As our kid passed the Brownsburg kid, the baton came flying out of the Brownsburg kid’s hand. I was like, ‘OMG!’”
Track is full of ups and downs, and OMG moments. Plainfield won by 14 points.
“The meet was so much closer than what those 14 points show,” Pelkey says. “That day, the Brownsburg throwers were fantastic and scored way more points than what we thought they would. They had a kid in the 800 meters who was in the top three. Their hurdler won. It was a real battle. That’s one of the things that we’re most proud of – to have beaten a really great Brownsburg team that had beaten us three times before the state meet.”
For anyone who thinks track lacks excitement, Pelkey has some tales to tell. In last year’s regional meet, Plainfield’s 4×100-meter relay team ran their fastest time of the year, running one hundredth of a second off of their school record. Still, they came in second to Brownsburg, who ran the fourth-fastest time ever in state history at the regionals.
At the state meet, roughly 75 meters into the 4×100-meter relay, the lead-off runner pulled a hamstring. Instead of collapsing, he got the handoff to runner number two, who made up distance, as did their last two runners. Ultimately, they finished the race second to Brownsburg.
Later in that same meet, as Maple was walking to the start of the 200 meters, he severely cramped up.
“I was thinking, ‘We’ll walk it in and at least score one point,’” Pelkey says.
Then another kid got hurt too, which meant that two athletes were in a walking race. “As they’re coming down the stretch, we’re cheering on Connor to walk just a little bit faster than the other kid, knowing that the difference between one and two points could make the difference overall,” Pelkey says. “It was a crazy set of events.”
This is the third state championship for PHS, in addition boys basketball and girls softball titles.
“There is no class in track, so you’re competing against every school in the state,” Pelkey says.
While senior Newash-Campbell is thrilled to be a personal state champion, he’s most proud of winning as a team.
“The bond I’ve created with my teammates, especially my 4×4 relay team, has taken the focus away from just winning and has brought joy to even the most difficult times,” he says. “The feeling of winning as a team alongside the men and coaches who have put their blood, sweat and tears into the sport is a dreamlike type of moment.”
Senior Hrbek, who has participated in track since seventh grade, agrees.
“Seeing all of my teammates’ and Plainfield supporters’ faces light up when they gave us the trophy, and sharing that moment, was the highlight of my high school career,” Hrbek says. “Over the past six years I’ve hit a hurdle, fallen down and/or gotten injured countless times, but I’ve never quit. If you want to be great at something, never give up.”