The big show

SHIPPENSBURG – George Donahey came to the PIAA Class AAA track and field championships expecting – not attempting, but expecting – a medal.

Jacob Shaffer’s goal was a medal, too, but in a different sense.

Both of them learned when they got here that the state track meet doesn’t always deliver what the aspirants are seeking – that there is a substantial wall standing between expectation and real success.

Donahey left here unhappy with the hardware he received, and understandably so. Shaffer’s reaction was tempered when he failed to climb the medal stand at all.

Donahey, whose district pole vault of 15 feet, 1/2 inch made him the best coming in, was perfect to a point. But after achieving 13-6 without a miss, Lady Luck – and the wind – turned against him. He was unable to clear the bar again.

He was in eighth place, the last for the medal ceremony.

“I didn’t think it was going to go like that. But my uncle reminded me, last year I didn’t even medal at districts,” he said. “I came a long way.”

Donahey’s uncle has been a friend and a coach. The owner of Camp Hill-based Vaultworx said after Donahey’s first miss that it was the wind, and at that point it wasn’t worth worrying about. But the breeze stayed strong along the ramp – the crossbar fell several times – and the adjustments the Mifflin County vaulter made just weren’t enough.

Donahey still looks to compete in the New Balance Nationals event. He finished his senior year with two state medals, having earned one in the indoor season as well.

“I’m thankful for what I’ve done, but it is a disappointment that I didn’t jump what I should have,” he said.

Shaffer was a step behind Donahey in one sense, but was unique in another – Midd-West, a program that is young and competes without its own track has qualified few for the state meet, and Shaffer, the second seed in the discus, looked good to be the first from the school to bring home a medal.

“My school was really supporting me and really pulling for me,” he said. “I’m not going to lie – track and field hasn’t been very big at our school. Not as big as other sports.”

That just added to the pressure, which he attributed to his unsatisfactory performance – Shaffer fouled on all three of his throws, failing to get a measurement, much less make the finals.

“Yesterday everything was going smoothly – I was hitting 165 to 170s. I had some great throws, I was staying the circle,” he said. “Today I think the nerves got to me – I was too fast out of the back. I tried to slow it down and things just didn’t connect.”

He committed a sector foul on his first attempt, then was called for brushing against the rail on his second try. On the third, he said, he lost control of his balance and pulled himself out – all nervousness, he said.

“Coming here, I haven’t felt these nerves since I went to my first invitational when I was a freshman,” Shaffer said. “It really got to me. I was way stronger than I was.”

Notes: Donahey plans to continue his track career at Lock Haven University. Shaffer is headed to Cornell … Shaffer was the first male athlete to represent his school in the state meet. … Mifflin County’s Darien Knudsen competes today; he did not run Friday. … No girls qualified in Class AAA for this year’s state meet.