Third time’s a charm for state weightlifting tourney

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Months of planning and preparation by tournament director Bobby Johns of Wewahitchka and countless hours of volunteer work by Wewa and Port St. Joe coaches and students culminated Saturday night, April 23, with the conclusion of the three-day Florida High School Athletic Association boys state weightlifting tournament. 

The Class 3A competition on Thursday, April 21 resulted in the closest outcomes of the tournament with Flagler Palm Coast edging out Niceville 24-21 in Traditional, and Olympic Heights taking the Snatch crown by a single point over Navarre, 21-20. 

In Friday’s 2A meet, Charlotte and Suwannee won gold in Traditional and Snatch, respectively, by comfortable margins. 

To the surprise of neither Johns nor Port St. Joe’s Tanner Jones, the Keystone Heights Indians dominated Saturday’s Class 1A action, racking up 44 points in Snatch and a whopping 55 in Traditional. 

Located about 30 miles slightly northeast of Gainesville, Keystone Heights has a student population, in grades seven through 12 of nearly 1,200. Although they play football and basketball at the 4A level, and baseball and soccer at the 3A level, the school is able to compete in weightlifting and wrestling against smaller 1A schools. 

Johns, the tournament director, also oversaw last year’s boys state tournament and this year’s girls state tournament. “This time it was fairly easy (to plan),” he said. “We used the same workers, the same cafeteria people, the same concession people, so this was the easiest (of the three tournaments).” 

Doubling down as the Gator weightlifting coach, Johns was pleased his team placed third overall in Snatch competition, led by Cole Williams who won gold in the 119-pound event with a personal best of 135 pounds, and Bryson Greene whose personal best lift of 155 pounds took third place in the 139-pound division. 

P.J. Garrison and Joey Salerno received medals for their fourth and fifth place results in the 183-pound class. 

Other Top 10 Gator finishers in Snatch were Landin Webb (119 pounds) for eighth place; Corbin Hysmith (129 pounds) seventh place’ Avery Davis (169 pounds) eighth place; and Tremaine Booker (169 pounds) 10th place. 

In Traditional competition, Salerno (183 pounds) earned his second medal of the day with his fourth place finish, and Preston Stacey (238 pounds) took fifth. 

Williams (119 pounds) and Booker (169 pounds) finished eighth and tenth, respectively, in Traditional. Taking third in Traditional, the Tiger Sharks finished a mere point behind runner-up West Nassau High.

“Last year, we were 14th or 16th, it was way down there,” said Jones. “Every one of our kids today had personal bests. I’m very excited about the guys.” 

“We don’t do workouts for weightlifting,” he said. “We work out for football, and for them to do what they did is just their being naturally strong. And genetics.” 

Sharks who earned a trip to the podium were Devin Cuttino (139 pounds) third place; P.J. Jones (169 pounds) fourth place; Tad Russell (169 pounds) fifth place; Aiden Gainer (219 pounds) fourth place; and D.J. Oliver (238 pounds) third place. 

Chase Lanford (183) finished in ninth place for St. Joe. 

Jones, the tournament co-director, gave a nod to the hard work of St. Joe coach Tracy Browning. “Tracy organized, orchestrated, and got a lot of things moving,” he said. “Bobby (Johns) was definitely the brains behind all of it, and I’m probably the muscle most of the time. 

“Our students helped set everything up, (and) worked on the floor. As coaches, we put in a lot of work and time, but without the students we couldn’t (get this done),” said Jones.

Whether the FHSAA weightlifting tournaments will return to Gulf County next year is unknown at this time. “A lot of the schools who have to drive (so far) would like to see it more centrally located,” said Jones. 

“We don’t know yet,” said Johns. “There’s a chance that it won’t come back next year.” 

And in support of the adage that there is “no rest for the weary,” both Port St. Joe and Wewa have spring football on schedule for the next two weeks.

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