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Boys track & field: Portage sprinter Jeron Blake looks to join NWI’s elite

Valparaiso's Alessar Vasile Portage's JerBlake Lake Central's Isiah Duggan finish their 55 meter dash heduring DAC indoor meet Portage High

Valparaiso's Alessar Vasile, Portage's Jeron Blake and Lake Central's Isiah Duggan finish their 55 meter dash heat during the DAC indoor meet at Portage High School Tuesday afternoon. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 22, 2013 6:51AM



Running runs in the family, so to speak, for Jeron Blake.

His dad, Jerone, was a sprinter on coaching legend John Campbell’s 12th and final state championship team at Roosevelt in 1989. His mom, Lavita, competed at West Side.

The Blakes “used to be avid runners,” Jerone Blake said, and they’d take Jeron along even when he was just a toddler.

“One day, Jeron climbed out of the stroller and ran around the track,” Jerone Blake said.

His son was 2 years old then, and he hasn’t stopped racing since. Now, Blake is one of the state’s fastest men, and the latest in a series of Northwest Indiana sprint standouts hoping to make his mark on the state stage.

In 2010, Hobart junior Jarvis McMillian became the first boy to win the sprint triple crown — 100, 200 and 400 meters — in state-meet history. Lew Wallace’s Robert Gardner was a two-time IHSAA champ in the 400 in 2007 and ’08, while Merrillville’s David Neville set the 400 state-meet record of 46.99 seconds in 2002. Also in 2002, West Side’s Mark Jelks ran wind-aided times of 10.25 and 20.88 to win the 100 and 200.

But McMillian battled injuries his senior season and wasn’t able to successfully defend his titles. And a pulled hamstring in the 100 final dashed the state hopes of Bowman’s Cornelius Strickland last year after he had a second and third in the sprint races as a junior in 2011.

So there is a legacy both of triumph and heartbreak setting the stage for Blake’s 2013 season. Now it’s his turn to see if he can improve on a junior year during which he was sixth in the 200 (22.28), eighth in the 100 (10.95) and a member of the fourth-place 1,600 relay team at state.

With fellow sprint standouts Alvin Best and Othie Freeny gone, Blake has a slightly different approach this year.

“I wasn’t too satisfied by the (individual places) I got,” Blake said. “It was just more of a team thing (at state).”

He’s expecting his times in the open races to drop after a busy summer of working out and working on his form: “I have a way better start.”

Blake and Portage coach John Kappes are most interested in proving that in May, though.

“We don’t have any expectations right now,” Kappes said. “Our plans and goals are very late-season for him. ... Obviously, the goal is to do better than we did last year.”

Toward that end, Blake may not max out his workload. A more likely scenario has him running the 100, 200 and a relay. “This year, I’m taking a break, not doing four events,” he said.

The idea is to do those events as well as McMillian did in 2010. “I’m just looking to (be) doing what Jarvis did and getting three rings,” Blake said.

There will be some pressure when it comes time to chase those goals at the end of the season. But for now, Blake is focusing on being ready. Besides his workouts with the Indians, he practices with his dad at Marquette Park in Gary.

Those are definitely fun runs, according to the Blakes.

“It’s more relaxing and it kind of breaks up the monotony,” Jerone Blake said.

“It just takes my mind off everything,” Jeron said. “I relax and have fun with my dad.”

Just like when he got out of the stroller years ago and raced around a track for the very first time.



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