Generals' Shirley saves best for last

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^ Posted Jun. 21

By Jeff Nations - jnations@nvdaily.com

QUICKSBURG -- You could say Dylan Shirley put in a full work day at the Group A state track and field championship meet in Radford.

You could say Shirley had put in more than his share of work well before that final event of the day, the 1,600-meter relay.

You could say that, and you'd be right.

Already, Shirley had won the state championship in the long jump with a school-record leap of 23 feet, 1.75 inches. Just a warm-up, really.

An hour or so later, and the Stonewall Jackson senior was splitting time attacking the high jump bar, bouncing down the runway for another triple jump attempt, scooting over to the track to run a leg in the Generals' 400 relay, then running his own 400 later in the day -- often, these events came on top of the other for Shirley, a frenetic pace that left him visibly exhausted as the day wore on.

So by the time that 1,600 relay came along, Shirley knew the following -- he was already a two-time state champion, he'd placed in three other events, and the Generals were comfortably on their way to their first-ever boys track and field state championship.

Time for a break? A victory lap, so to speak?

Yeah, right.

Shirley pushed hard for 400 blazing meters, trying in vain one last time to catch Nelson County's Rodrell Smith and get the Generals one last state championship on a day chock full of them. Sometimes, you can only do so much -- Stonewall Jackson finished third in the 1,600 relay -- but sometimes you do more than enough. That was Shirley, the Northern Virginia Daily's 2012 Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year.

"I still wish we could have won," Shirley said of the 1,600 relay, a full two weeks later. "That would have been nice."

Nice -- that's a tame word to describe the efforts of Shirley and his partner in crime, fellow senior John-Michael Pirtle, at the Group A state meet. It started with that long jump, as Pirtle came through with his best jump of the season to take the lead. Shirley had one jump left, and it turned out to be the record breaker. Pirtle took second, and the scoring surge was on for the Generals.

"Without him, the big jump that came from me probably wouldn't have happened," Shirley said. "I'm glad he was there. That was both of our first year ever making it to finals in the long jump."

"That just set the stage," Stonewall Jackson coach Dick Krol said. "[Shirley] was a man on a mission after that. They both were."

Pirtle, bound for Virginia to compete as a decathlete, showed off his versatility by winning the 110-meter hurdles, finishing second in the 300 hurdles -- without even running in the fastest heat -- and helping 400 relay (along with Shirley, Trevor Warner and Devon Martin) take third in the 400 relay. He didn't wear a Superman T-shirt for nothing.

Shirley, though, scored even more for the Generals. He scored another school record midway through the triple jump with a leap of 45-11.75. That was good for a third-place state finish, and that had to be good enough. Shirley had other stuff to do for the Generals. He produced his best jump of the year, a 6-3 effort in the high jump, to finish fifth in that event.

The 400, though, was the event Shirley had really been looking forward to running. It was a chance for revenge or redemption, maybe a bit of both. Just a week earlier at the Region B meet, Shirley was leading the final leg of the 1,600 relay -- running that same 400 meters -- when Nelson County's Smith surged past to win the race. That cost Stonewall Jackson the regional title, a one-point loss to Strasburg.

It was Shirley's first time on the track with Smith since that disaster, and he was ready.

This time, Shirley did the passing to win in 49.90. That was good enough for the state title, but not quite as good as his third-place finish at states the previous year (a school-record 49.87).

No time to celebrate, though -- soon enough, Shirley was back on the track to run his final leg to cap an amazing high school career. In addition to his two individual titles as a senior, plus a share of that team championship, Shirley was already a two-time state champion as a member of Stonewall's 1,600 relay team during his freshman and sophomore years. Always, he's been a busy athlete for the Generals.

"I've always done multiple events at states," Shirley said. "I do imagine sometimes what would happen if I stopped doing all the events and just focused on one event that I loved the most -- just to see how far I could excel in it."

That event might well be the decathlon; Shirley is drawing steady interest from colleges, though he thinks mainly it's due to his jumps right now.

"Me personally, I'd like to do the decathlon," Shirley said. "I'd like to do 10 events, see how athletic I really am. But as of right now, I'd assume that people are interested in jumps. My jumps are pretty good."

Krol isn't sure if Shirley has the build to handle the throwing portion of the decathlon, but he's learned not to count Shirley out. This, after all, is the same athlete who holds or shares six school records.

"The kid is such a natural athlete," Krol said. "I wouldn't put anything past him."


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