RUSSELLVILLE — It wasn't a sanctioned high school event, but Friday night's finale of the Russellville Summer Series served as an unofficial Senior Night for track and field athletes.
There wasn't a ceremony where athletes and there parents were recognized. It was all about getting the opportunity to compete, something that was taken from the seniors when their track and field season was canceled in the spring because of COVID-19.
"For seniors, this is big," said Russellville coach Sean Lovelace, who organized the Summer Series. "As an athlete, you always remember the last competition that you've ever been in. This will be some great memories for some of those kids."
One of the perks to the Summer Series was offering seniors from the class of 2020 the opportunity to compete free of charge. All other athletes had to pay a $5 entry fee for a maximum of four events.
Among the seniors competing this summer for Russellville were Joe Schroer, Gabriela Kauffman and Kyrastien Loveland.
For a pair of area seniors, the Summer Series was a welcomed alternative to make up for a missed opportunity to compete in the state track and field championships at Adkins Stadium in Jefferson City.
Sarah Johnson was one of the familiar faces on Calvary Lutheran's state-qualifying teams. She competed in two events at each of the state championships from her freshman through junior seasons, and she came away with an all-state medal in the 4x800-meter relay in 2018.
Like many seniors across Missouri, she didn't get the chance to make it to state four years in a row.
"It hurt a lot, because I put in a lot of work in the offseason this year," Johnson said. "I wanted to redeem myself from last year. Long jumping was a mess, so I was really looking forward to it."
Johnson finished sixth in the long jump Friday with a leap of 15 feet, 8.5 inches.
"It wasn't the greatest, but for not having practiced in 2-3 months, it wasn't terrible," she said.
Johnson has been a mainstay on Calvary Lutheran's relay teams, and she continued that trend Friday, racing in the 4x100, 4x200 and 4x800-meter relays. Her relay team finished second in both the 4x800 and 4x200.
But unlike at state, this time she competed with athletes from other schools on her relay teams.
"I love to meet new people," Johnson said. "Everyone was asking, 'Oh, let's get a relay together.' So you just get to see all these kids that you've seen at other meets and haven't really gotten a chance to talk to."
It may not have been a state meet, but Johnson said the Russellville Summer Series offered "final closure" for the high school seniors.
"I was really happy to hear they were going to try and get something together," Johnson said. "It meant they were thinking of us."
Vienna senior Gavin Weathers wasn't just looking to be a state qualifier this season. He was looking to become a three-time state champion in the boys discus after winning the Class 2 title in 2018 and the Class 1 title in 2019.
"It was hard, but I knew there was nothing I could do about it," Weathers said. "I just got past it and I moved on."
During the offseason, Weathers was recognized on the MoMileSplit all-decade track and field team for Class 1 discus.
"It was quite an honor," he said. "I was the second-best thrower out there, and that was only through my junior year, too."
When the Summer Series was announced, Weathers began practicing again for his throwing events. He said he was throwing as far as the low-170s in the discus.
"You have a lot of time, it's just getting motivated," Weathers said. "That was my biggest trouble. Right before the whole pandemic hit, I was like, 'OK, I don't want to do this, I want to do this every day.'
"But when that hit, you just feel deflated and unmotivated. You spend a little while thinking, 'Am I going to get back out there anytime soon?'"
Weathers was hoping to surpass his personal record of 166-7 in the discus at the Summer Series, but his top two throws Friday both traveled 161-5, finishing in third place. He also took sixth in the shot put with a throw of 42-9.5, and he even ran the 200-meter dash, clocking a time of 29.56 seconds.
Winning would have been Weathers' goal at the state championships, but it wasn't his No. 1 priority at the Summer Series.
"Competing is something that is natural," Weathers said. "I don't care if someone beats me, I'm out here to communicate again."
Weathers competed in the first Summer Series event July 9, but he said he missed the second one July 17 because he was attending college orientation at the University of Central Missouri, where he'll compete for the Mules' track and field team.
Johnson signed a letter of intent with Central Methodist's volleyball team after helping the Lady Lions to back-to-back Class 1 Final Four appearances. She said she will also join the school's track and field team, and she got to meet her new coach, Kenny Anderson, for the first time Friday.
As a COVID-19 precaution, Central Methodist announced a recommendation that fall sports student-athletes should self-quarantine for at least five days before reporting to campus in Fayette.
"I feel like it's a good decision," Johnson said. "And we are getting tested, too."