Ben Grant came to a crossroads early on in his track career.
After his freshman year, he had to ask himself this question: concentrate solely on pole vaulting or become a dedicated distance runner?
"I realized that this was going to be pole vaulting or nothing," Grant said. "So I chose running."
It's been a fruitful decision ever since.
Grant, a senior, has transformed into one of Tahlequah's more dominant distance runners, claiming several titles in the 800-meter race this season.
But before he became the distance dynamo that he is now, he could hold his own in the specialized field event. In fact, Grant set the freshman record at Tahlequah, eclipsing the 11-foot mark in pole vaulting.
But Grant knew if he was going to pursue a pole-vaulting career, it would likely be the only sport he could compete in at track meets.
"The amount of time that I would have to put into pole vaulting would just not allow me to go run an 800 and then come back and pole vault 12 to 14 feet," he said, "which is what the guys that I was vaulting with are vaulting now."
Tahlequah boys track coach Bart Frank let Grant decide his own future way back when.
"I just wanted him to go in the direction where he had more passion," Frank recalled. "When he was pole vaulting, he was really getting good."
However, Grant's participation in cross country took a hold of him.
"Really, (Tahlequah cross country) coach (Jason) Proctor had a lot of influence on that," Grant said. "My pole vaulting career was pretty short-lived."
For Grant and the Tigers, it's a decision that's worked out perfectly.
"Would he have been a 13- to 14-foot vaulter? Maybe," Frank said. "But he's one of the better runners in the state in the 800."
That he is.
Grant has notched several top-two finishes in the 800-meter run, including a first-place showing at the Class 5A regional in Owasso last weekend. To win the gold, he ran the half-mile race in 2:03.64, beating out teammate Aaron Eversole by a second.
Up next, Grant will be looking for revenge against Sallisaw's Sinue Rodriguez, who beat Grant at Tahelquah's home meet on April 6.
"He's a contender, obviously," Grant said of Rodriguez, who ran the fastest regional time (1:59.83) among all the state meet qualifiers. "There are four or five guys that I'm looking at right now, but yes, (Rodriguez) is a contender.
"I know him after racing against him here at the Reasors [meet]. He beat me, but it won't happen again."
Frank has faith that Grant can snag a gold medal in the 800 on Saturday in Yukon.
"He knows what he has to do to beat the Sallisaw kid," Frank said. "(Grant) has as much of a chance to be a state champion as anyone."
Also high on Grant's priority list at the state meet will be reclaiming the 3,200-meter relay gold after helping win it his sophomore year. The Tigers, though, came in second last season.
"That is No. 1 on our priority list: get our title back," said Grant, whose relay team finished second to Guthrie in 2011. "We went into it last year and we might have been a little high-headed. But lesson learned; I'll never forget that the best team doesn't always win."
While Deer Creek will be tough to catch in the points department, Tahlequah — which tied for first with Wagoner at last weekend's regional meet — will chase points in several different events on Friday and Saturday. The Tigers will have Eversole in the 400- and 800-meter runs; Reno Blum, Ara Poteete and Zech VanFleet in the 1,600-meter run; Blum and Mo Bassime in the 3,200-meter run; Thomas Girdner, Brandon Hadley and Brandon Conrad in the high jump; and Sylas Sloan in both the shotput and discus.
"A top-five finish would be over the top for us," said Frank, who will also have teams in both the 1,600- and 3,200-meter relays. "Right now, the kids are just running for themselves.
"I'm just excited about the fact that we're taking some young kids. It's always good for those young ones to get some state meet experience."
Tahlequah senior Ben Grant ditched pole vaulting years ago to focus on running.
Ben Grant came to a crossroads early on in his track career.
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