By Marcus Mitchell
After an impressive season-opener at Embry-Riddle’s Last Chance Meet, the Spartan track teams are looking to continue their success this Friday, March 3. With this Friday’s meet being held at Pepin Stadium, the team is hoping their home-field advantage pays off. But the Spartans will draw a majority of their motivation not from the venue itself, but from the initials “RM” that adorn their jerseys in honor of late Spartan track star Ryan McCall.
Previously known as the UT Distance Carnival, the name of the event was changed to the Ryan McCall Meet in 2012, three years after McCall’s death. On August 2009, McCall was tragically murdered in a mugging after he and a friend were confronted by a gunman asking for money. After giving the gunman the few dollars he had, McCall was shot and killed.
At the time, McCall was a senior and track standout for the Spartans. When he wasn’t practicing to beat his record of 800-meters in two minutes, McCall was working hard by being named to the Dean’s List and coaching track for Tampa Preparatory School. He was an icon in a program that was constantly overshadowed by the bigger sports like baseball and volleyball.
Since his death, David Earl Williams Jr. was found guilty of the murder after a three-year manhunt, and justice was finally given to McCall and his family. The McCall family has also formed the Ryan P. McCall foundation, which organizes events throughout the year to fund scholarships for track and cross country athletes in Hillsborough County who have also shown academic success. UT Track assistant coach Dror Vaknin works closely with the foundation’s spring event: Ryan’s Run.
“I coordinate the course and the [UT] runners are also going to be working it all,” Vaknin said. “Ryan was going to graduate that year and through these scholarships a lot more kids like Ryan are going to graduate. It’s incredible that a tragedy like what happened has resulted in a bright future for so many people.”
In its fifth year, Ryan’s Run is an open four-mile race through Ybor City but is far from standard. Since McCall excelled in both individual and relay races, the event can be ran in either format. This means that runners can either choose to run with three partners and all four run a mile each, with one partner and run two miles each, or choose to run all four miles by themselves. This is to encourage families to participate and divvy up the running load so that less-experienced runners can still go out and run in McCall’s name. The event will be held April 9th and registration for the event is currently open.
While Ryan’s Run is still a month away, the Ryan McCall Meet is just this weekend. At UT, McCall’s memory is most strongly felt at the one place he shined brightest: the track.
“Running at this event and wearing his initials on our jerseys is special to us because it honors the legacy of a past UT runner,” men’s runner and junior allied health major Brendan McGonagle said.
McGonagle was one of three men’s Spartans who finished in the top-ten at Embry-Riddle’s 1000-meter race, finishing ninth with a time of 9:08. Joe Weber finished 5th with a time of 8:58 and Mitch Arnold finished close behind in 6th with a time of 8:59. But while all the Spartans are looking to put in good times this Friday, women’s captain and senior Chantalle Blundell is especially excited to hit the track.
“I love performing at home because we only get to do it once a year. I usually don’t run my main event, the 5K, at the home meet but this year I am,” Blundelle said. “[This meet] is an extra opportunity for our team to wear Ryan’s initials and honor him. I am hoping I perform really well.”
Blundell won the 3000-meter race with a time of 10:16 at the recent Embry-Riddle meet and has had strong showings running at home, where she won the 5K last year and placed third the year before. Blundell will have some internal competition this year as she will be running against the fellow Spartans and twin sisters, Claudio and Elaina Cancello, who finished first and second respectively at Embry Riddle’s 5K race.
Even though there are no field events such as the long jump or hammer throw, the Ryan McCall Meet is sure to be an event worth attending not just for the competition, but the legacy behind it. The Spartans who will be running this year aren’t just doing it for themselves, but for a former Spartan. This Friday, the Spartans’ jerseys are sure to be covered in sweat, but the RM initials will never be stained.