Before his biggest high school sports moment, Pitman High senior Markus Sanders had to get away.
He went to a park, a nice distraction from all the noise and expectations that awaited him. There, his coach, Thad Moren, said something to him that stuck during the CIF State Track and Field Championships at Buchanan High’s Veterans Memorial Stadium in Clovis, where there were thousands of people in the stands.
“Whatever you do today,” Moren told Sanders, a state discus thrower, “you have to earn it yourself.”
“Everybody will always remember a state medal.”
By Saturday evening, Sanders earned some hardware that no Turlocker has taken home in decades. His mark of 185 feet, 6 inches — 54 inches more than his personal best and 30 feet more than his best throw last season — was enough for fourth place, the highest finish in Pitman history.
It was also the first medal showing (top six) for any Turlock track athlete since 1962, when Larry Maggard took fifth in the shot put.
“Every throw, I wasn’t trying to think so much,” Sanders said. “When I think, I mess up. I just knew if I calm down and settle and not think so much, everything would come together and I’d get the throw I was looking for.”
And he didn’t wait long to get things going. He understood the expectations that surrounded him — the crowd of 17,358 on the second and final day of the state meet and the history that he could make with the discus in his hand. So on his first try, he exceeded his own expectations.
He hit 181-6, a half-foot from the personal best he set on May 1.
Moren knew that was a good sign; that making history wasn’t a stretch. He has seen Sanders grow as a discus thrower, ever since he started the sport his freshman season while football — his No. 1 passion — was in its offseason. He began to appreciate the event as a sophomore, as he won the first of three Central California Conference titles.
Sanders continued to excel this season, when his throws ranked in the top six in the state and top 20 in the nation. Fast forward to the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters in Sacramento, where he had to rush through his throws in order to make it to his high school graduation in Turlock, after becoming Turlock’s only state meet competitor with a qualifying distance.
But there’s more.
“One of the cool things that Markus has done for our program,” Moren said, “is that we had a lot of guys who could have been some really good throwers. It seems like this year, he has inspired a lot of guys that are younger than him.”
Then came the state meet, where he said, “I was really nervous.” Even so, he was the athlete that kept talking to his challengers, trying to get to know them a little better — not because he wanted to gain an edge on them, but because he was genuinely curious about who they were, Moren said.
Despite the nerves, Sanders was in control of his emotions. One of his practice throws landed around 190 feet, a goal of his all season. “Dang it! We should have taken only one practice throw,” Moren thought.
But the coach knew Sanders could handle the moment, anyway.
“I think as a track athlete — in the throws, especially — when you step in the ring and you have the discus in your hand, you control your destiny,” Moren said. “It’s just a matter of how prepared you are and how in control you are.”
Now that it’s over, Sanders will continue to attend Modesto Junior College — he started taking classes as a high school senior — and will play for the Pirates football team, as well as the track and field team.
No matter what he does, people will remember Sanders as a state medalist, just like what his coach said before history was made.
To contact Chhun Sun, e-mail email@example.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2041.