By Matt Hill
The Johnson City Invitational is one of the crown jewels of area track and field events, and if Nikolai Simpson can win in the shot put and discus Saturday, he will pretty much be king of the area.
Elizabethton and Happy Valley are both competing in Friday’s and Saturday’s combined high school and college event, and the event will be hosted by Milligan College and Science Hill High School in a joint venture.
“I don’t think people realize the time and effort it takes to plan an event like this,” Science Hill High School athletic director and former Elizabethton basketball standout Keith Turner said. “There were times it didn’t look so good, and we were about ready to scrap it, and then next thing you know we’re turning teams away. We’re excited about this year’s event.”
There are 12 high school teams in the event on the boys’ and girls’ side in addition to having several colleges, including the Buffs.
One of the athletes to watch is going to be the Cyclones’ Simpson, who has dominated in his first two meets of the year.
However, the competition does get a little tougher in this premier event.
Simpson is considered the favorite to win the discus, but there’s actually somebody in the shot put who has a better mark.
Marion, Va. standout Jeremy Stamper has thrown the shot at a mark of 51 already, with Simpson coming in around 45.
“Marion has a very strong team this year,” Science Hill head track and field coach John Hyatt said.
Hyatt was very complimentary of Simpson, and all the accolades he has garnered so far in his career.
“Coach (Craig) Emmert is bringing his all-state thrower, who has thrown over 150 in the discus and over 45 in the shot put,” Hyatt said about the Cyclone star.
Some of the other local teams coming besides Science Hill, Elizabethton and Happy Valley, include University High and Unicoi County.
Another team somewhat close by, Watauga, N.C. out of Boone; should also be one of the favorites to take the overall title.
The college of event has some of the top small colleges around, and also a few individuals from Division I schools.
In distance running, a headline runner is somebody who is very familiar to Cyclone fans.
Janey Robinson will run in the women’s 5,000 event.
Robinson will join national qualifier Austin Ellis among others in the distance events.
Unicoi County product Thad Higgins is competing in the pole vault. Higgins was part of one of the strongest pole vault traditions in the area at UCHS.
King College is also coming to the event. Former Johnson County standout Hannah Witt is a member of the Tornado team.
Also, there will be an open 5K to the public on Friday at 6:15 p.m. sponsored by Citizens Bank.
Gates open at 3:30 on Friday with mainly collegiate events. The high school event starts Saturday at 10 a.m. with gates opening at 9 a.m.