The Maplewood and McDonald High track teams, coached by the Rupe brothers, have a special relationship.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
Eighteen miles separate Maplewood and McDonald high schools. The relationship between their track and field teams is much tighter.
With the Maplewood High boys team making a run at its second straight Division III state team title, which it will attempt Friday and Saturday at the state meet in Dayton, the Rockets are quick to credit their friends and rivals south of Cortland.
"Having McDonald around us is fantastic," Maplewood coach Dave Deeter said. "They have a great team, with experienced guys.
"It's a friendly rivalry," he said. "We cheer for them; they cheer for us. They run with each other and they know each other. That helps out quite a bit."
Pykare set: Maplewood junior David Pykare qualified for state in the 1600- and 3200-meter runs, after placing first in each event at the regional. He knows what the Blue Devils mean to his program.
"We've got a rivalry, but we're still really good friends," Pykare said. "I couldn't pick a bunch of better guys to run against than McDonald. They're great competition, and when we step off the track we're friends again."
What brings the programs even closer is the fact that coaches Chris Rupe (McDonald) and Ted Rupe (Maplewood) are brothers.
"It's important that we pull for each other and not let competition bring out the ugly side of us," said Chris Rupe, whose boys team won the 1999 state title.
"You definitely put on your running face on race day, but it's just nice to see the sport in this area doing well."
Camps: Chris Rupe said a lot of runners get to know one another through camps.
"Once you get to know someone's face and name, you tend to seek those people out," he said.
The Blue Devils will send seniors Adam Lewis (300 hurdles) and Ryan Witkoski (long jump) to the state meet, in addition to their 4x100, 4x400 and 4x800 relays.
Although it might not be as many as McDonald would have liked in Dayton this weekend, be sure Maplewood will support the Blue Devils just the same.
"We helped each other a lot," said Maplewood senior Dave Morrison, who won the regional title in the 800, of the teams. "We see them all the time. They're good competition, and we're good competition to them. It just gets us ready where we know what we have to do."
Tied last year: Maplewood tied Findlay Liberty-Benton for the Div. III team title last season. Deeter said this year's state qualifiers should give his team even more of a chance to win.
"It's definitely stronger than last year," Deeter said of his 2001 team.
"Last year all we had go [to state] was Pykare in the mile, Morrison in the 800, and we had the 4x800. So we only qualified in three events."
This year, Deeter said, the Rockets should benefit from the individual performances of Pykare in the mile and two-mile, Morrison and sophomore John Palmer in the 800 and junior Dan Palm in the 110 hurdles. Maplewood also has the 4x400 and 4x800 relays competing at state.
"It was like we had an angel on our shoulder the whole  year," Palmer said. "That's what it will take again this year."