Honoring Jake: Runners compete at 7th annual Graf Invitational

Aug. 22—Twenty-three schools gathered for the seventh-annual Jacob Graf Invitational Saturday at Logansport High School.

Graf's mother, Pam Graf, was in attendance and said she was happy with how the event has grown.

"It's amazing. The reason why the invitational got changed to the first meet of the year was because Jake and some of his teammates were complaining that they couldn't run full out because their race was right before sectionals. So they couldn't win their own invitational," she said. "Their junior year [former Logansport coach] Chuck [LaDow] decided to change it, got it to the first meet. There were I believe about eight teams the first time and Chuck and Jake both envisioned this hill being filled. Twenty-three teams this year is just incredible and Jake would have loved this and Chuck is so proud of it. It's really cool."

Graf was one of the best cross country runners in Logansport history. He joined Jeff Davis, Tim Smith, Mark Courtad and Kyle Overway as the only LHS runners to be crowned NCC champions. His career-best time of 16:01 was the third-fastest 5K time in school history.

Graf went on to run at the Division I level at IUPUI. He was just 18 years old and a freshman in college when he tragically died in December of 2016.

Pam Graf believes her son is in now in Heaven.

"I get more signs, I find more safety pins in places you would never find them from runner's bibs. I find them and I know when I see those I'm thinking ... But no, he's in a much better place, but I'm telling you I feel him all around me. And I have runners tell me that," she said. "I know Carly Armstrong, who is the assistant coach for the girls, they were really close all through school, hung out, she had to give a speech to her girls at Graf Gulch and she broke down telling a story about Jake because — and part of it was probably laughter from the things he did — but he was, he was a great kid all-around. I just know that for 18 years, almost 19 that we had him, I'm so blessed with that. But all these runners here are getting to know him or at least hear his name and maybe learn something about him."

Chuck LaDow, Graf's cross country coach in high school, wrote in 2016: "The Jacob Graf that Logansport grew to love is one with an infectious smile, a legendary sense of humor and the uncanny ability to just 'fit in' with any and every group in which he was involved. It didn't matter who Jake was with — Thespians, car guys, athletes, academics — Jake just fit. I was blessed to be involved in this young man's life for most of his journey, and I am richer because of it. As a leader of the LXC community, he was a natural. A coach's dream, he led by example. Never complaining, always first to show up, crossed the finish line first and was always the first to cheer on the last runner — a testimony to the content of his character. Jake truly was something special."

Graf had quite a sense of humor.

"He was funny," Pam said. "I learned a lot of things after he passed away. But yeah, he kept the team going and IUPUI has an award named after him, the Jake Graf Spirit Award. They loved him and he wasn't even the fastest there but he was the one to get them out and get them going and get them laughing at 5 in the morning. Here he did the same thing with the teams. That's the great thing about cross country though, all the runners root for everybody. Even their competitors, they want them to do well because that pushes them and it's a family. Jake's class had probably six or seven in the teams he ran against go D-I for running. It was a tough class and I see that this year, it seems like they're going to have some really tough runners. It's fun.

"It is really incredible. They have Graf Gulch in the Berry Patch, all the runners like to hit the sign when they go by. But to see all these people here enjoying this and being so early in the season and seeing an incredible runner run a 16:23 at the finish, it's amazing. It brings back a lot of good feelings."

The weather was perfect for the seventh-annual event.

"When I saw the forecast for today I knew we'd have a fast time. This is perfect, this is just absolutely gorgeous," Pam said.

Clinton Prairie's Hayden Kemple was the overall winner of the boys race with a time of 16:23.

Pioneer had the top finish among area teams in the boys race with a fifth-place finish. Carson Meyer led the Panthers with an eighth-place finish in 17:28, followed by Jackson Baker (11th, 17:42), Leighton Dodt (12th, 17:58), Jack Nance (55th, 19:33), Kevin Gluth (82nd, 20:41) and Elliott Cooper (89th, 21:09).

Logansport placed 10th as a team. Anthony Gallardo placed 25th in 18:26 to lead the Berries, followed by Micah Rogers (53rd, 19:28), Miguel Zarate (61st, 19:49), Ben Favors (67th, 20:00), Ronald Sevilla (70th, 20:10), Carson Dubes (75th, 20:22) and Grady Alexander (105th, 21:55).

Caston placed 13th. Edison Byrum placed 13th in 18:00 to lead the Comets, followed by Reed Sommers (63rd, 19:53), Kane Finke (66th, 19:58), Maxwell Sommers (80th, 20:40), Josiah Helt (116th, 22:29), Jace Rentschler (126th, 24:19) and Braden Rush (127th, 25:19).

Winamac placed 16th. Logan Fredel placed 35th in 18:53 to lead the Warriors, followed by Nathan Pierzchalski (38th, 19:00), Dylan Guilford (43rd, 19:13), Corbin Holehan (112th, 22:13) and Joel Showley (132nd, 27:10).

Maconaquah was the boys team champion with 99 points. The Braves' top five included Daylen Schrock (6th, 17:10), Kaden Miller (15th, 18:10), Isaiah Wittenberg (20th, 18:17), Isaiah Moore (26th, 18:32) and Kaden Hanson (32nd, 18:49).

Northwestern's Hannah Moore was the overall girls champion with a time of 19:23. Hamilton Heights was the team champion.

Cass sophomore Aftin Griffin placed third overall in 19:59. The Kings placed fifth as a team. Griffin was followed by AnnaLeigh Hedrick (24th, 22:54), Kylie Logan (38th, 23:47), Grace Spicer (45th, 24:18), Brystalin Gillem (49th, 24:31), Hannah Zamora (81st, 26:53) and Kennedy Thorpe (89th, 27:32).

"Our girls put in a great summer and have been working hard the first few weeks of practice," Cass coach Denise Rush said. "Aftin Griffin led us with a great first meet improving time and place from last year with some talented area runners. Aftin came out of the woods fifth and came back in the last 800 to finish third with a great first meet time. Sophomores AnnaLeigh Hedrick and Kylie Logan were a strong 2-3 as AnnaLeigh improved over three minutes from last year and Kylie is strong and will continue to improve this season. Both qualified for regional last year along with Aftin.

"Freshmen Grace Spicer and Brystalin Gillem also scored for us today running a solid first meet. Our freshman class has brought us depth this year as we also had great times and efforts from our freshman running JV as well. Junior Hannah Zamora and senior co-captain Kennedy Thorpe also ran top seven today. We have four seniors this year including Kennedy, co-captain Faith Helvie, Maike Hundertmark and Laura Nebera. We are looking forward to the county meet next week."

Winamac placed third as a team. Maggie Smith placed 10th in 21:42 to lead the Warriors, followed by Kadence Hoover (18th, 22:17), Kandace Kroft (27th, 23:02), Kelsey Wegner (29th, 23:10), Avery Wegner (39th, 24:00), Claire Goodman (41st, 24:10) and Lily Bennett (57th, 24:58).

Pioneer placed 12th. Violet Montgomery placed seventh in 21:12 to lead the Panthers, followed by Kylie Jamerson (69th, 26:03), Ellie Hines (70th, 26:05), Avery Haselby (85th, 27:13) and Laylynn Malchow (100th, 28:52).

Logan placed 15th. The Berries were led by sophomore and first-year cross country runner, Jacqueline Flores-Hernandez, who ran a strong 23:18 to place 30th overall, followed by Claire Bundy (71st, 26:20), Kate Maxson (91st, 27:41), Audrey Graham (92nd, 27:43), Ashley Murillo (96th, 28:07), Libby Dexter (97th, 28:08) and Lily Newell (101st, 28:54).

"To start the season our goal for this race was to run based on effort," Logan coach Kailin Bauman said. "It's been a year since we've raced, so we needed to see how we would respond to some competition and shake off some cobwebs. We doubled the size of our team this year and were excited to see how the summer of practices paid off.

"After a summer of practices, I am very happy with this as a debut. We used this meet as an opportunity to see where we are and where we can make changes to race strategy and workouts. All our returning runners are starting the season at least a minute better than the start of last year, which is very promising considering the way they were able to improve as the season progressed last year. Kate and Lily are great additions to the team, helping round out a strong pack."

Caston placed 16th. Myli Rude placed 56th in 24:53 to lead the Comets, followed by Alexa Lowe (63rd, 25:30), Camila Hernandez-Rios (67th, 25:56), Jaded Aguilar (103rd, 29:37) and Breana Amezquita (113th, 34:59).