NEW HAVEN, February 15, 2020 – The cameras and reporters were there, crowded at the end of the 55-meter runway at Friday’s Class S indoor track and field championship meet at the Floyd Little Athletic Center on the campus of Hillhouse High.
Two days earlier, three high school athletes – including Canton’s Chelsea Mitchell — were part of a federal lawsuit that aims to strike down a CIAC rule that allows transgender athletes that identify as girls to compete in girls athletics.
One of those transgender athletes – Terry Miller of Bloomfield – was in the finals of the Class S 55-meter dash in the lane next to Mitchell. It was a made-for-television moment with two athletes on the opposing ends of a lawsuit side by side for the state championship.
Mitchell had never beaten Miller, who won the Class S title last February in the 55 meters by 0.24 of a second, a significant victory in a sprint race.
But this year was different. Mitchell got off to a quick start and beat Miller for the first time by 0.02 to win the Class S championship in the 55 meters with a time of 7.20 seconds. Miller was second with a time of 7.22 seconds.
The Hartford Courant put the results of the race on the front page — of the entire newspaper. A large headline proclaimed, “More than just a race: Connecticut runner challenging transgender athletes in lawsuit goes head-to-head with trans athlete.”
Lost in the glare of this coverage was Mitchell’s performance at the Class S championship meet. Not only did she win the 55 meters but she won two other events – the 300 meters and long jump – to help the Canton High girls track team finish fourth for the second consecutive year.
Last year, Mitchell became the first Canton girl to win a state championship in indoor track with a victory in the long jump. This year, she won three times.
“That a rarity,” Canton coach Tim O’Donnell said of an athlete taking home three gold medals at a single indoor track and field meet. Athletes are limited to three events. “She is performing very well.”
Along with her victory in the 55 meters, Mitchell won the 300 meters with a dominant win, beating Haddam-Killingworth’s Kedarjah Lewis by 2.45 seconds with her school record time of 40.98 seconds. And in the long jump, Mitchell leaped 18-8½ on her first jump of the day for a win of one foot, six inches over Lewis.
— Shawn McFarland (@McFarland_Shawn) February 14, 2020
“She didn’t spend a lot of time on that,” O’Donnell said of the long jump. Mitchell passed one jump in the first round and one jump in the finals. “She jumped well beyond what she did last week.”
Mitchell, a senior, is finishing her career on a strong note. At the NCCC championship meet, Mitchell swept the 55 meters (7.19 seconds), 300 meters and long jump (19-8 1/4 ) setting school and conference meet records in all three events. “Yes. That was my goal,” Mitchell said regarding the NCCC meet.
Mitchell has earned the top seed for Saturday’s State Open in the 55 meters and long jump. She is a top five seed in the 300 meters. Mitchell is sure to meet Miller again in the 55 meters on Saturday.
Mitchell won’t be the only Canton athlete at the State Open. Junior Julia Caputo ran well at the Class S meet, finishing third in the 3,200 meters with a season-best time of 11:25.07 and taking fourth with a school-record time of 5:20.61 in the 1,600 meters. Caputo qualified for the Open in both events.
Other top 10 finishes for Canton came from Maeve Balavender, who was sixth in the 600 meters with a time of 1:48.12 and Ava Dakin, who was ninth with a time of 1:53.72. Sadie Baker was eighth in the shot with a throw of 32-1¾ feet.
Canton’s 4×800 relay team (Dakin, Balavender, Grace First, Caputo) broke an 11-year-old school record with a time of 10:26.06, good enough for a fourth place finish.
The Warriors’ 4×200 relay team (Therese McClain, Maya Sutton Hall, Joy Schand, Julia Langou) was fifth with a time of 1:54.94 while the 4×400 relay team (Sutton Hall, Dakin, Shand and Balavender) was eighth in 4:38.37.
Bloomfield won the meet with 83 points followed by Old Saybrook (60.25), Immaculate (50) and Canton (46). East Hampton was fifth with 38 points.
The Canton boys finished 18th at the Class S championships with 8½ points. Bloomfield easily won the meet with 111 points with Haddam-Killingworth (51) and East Hampton (36), finishing second and third, respectively.
Defending New England champion Peter Fuller was third in the high jump with a leap of 5-10 and fifth in the 55 hurdles with a time of 8:15.50. Both performances were good enough to earn Fuller invitations to compete at the State Open in both events.
Brandon LaClair finished sixth in the pole vault with a leap of 11 feet.
By the way, the Canton squad practices outside as much as they can during the winter. They clear snow and ice off the mats to practice pole vaulting and high jumping during the cold weather, along with running on the state-of-the-art facility at the high school as long as it is clear of snow and ice.
“It’s really hard to hold onto the (pole vault) pole in the cold,” O’Donnell said.
The State Open begins at noon on Saturday.