Bulldogs duo came close at state meet
News-Gazette Photo/Donald Lamb
St. Cloud Coach Cory Aun encourages T.J. Whitley during the bench press at the Class 2A state weightlifting meet at the Kissimmee Civic Center.
Whitley 2nd by ounces
By J.D. Pearson
For the News-Gazette
In most sports, ties are broken on the field. Soccer has overtime and penalty kicks, wrestling has a sudden death overtime period and baseball has extra innings.
But high school weightlifting is different. If you are tied at the end of your three lifts in the bench press and clean and jerk, the tie is broken by the body weight of the lifters – the lighter athlete wins.
Now imagine losing a state title because of this format.
St. Cloud’s TJ Whitley (295-280-575) tied Pace’s Tommy Piscopo (295-280-575) for the state championship, but because Whitley weighed ounces more than Piscopo, it cost him the individual crown at 154 pounds.
While the average athlete may be upset to lose a state championship that way, Whitley was not only smiling but incredibly gracious to the winner.
“Tommy (Piscopo) was great,” Whitley said after the state tournament. “I’m so happy for him and what he achieved.”
It’s the combination of being a great athlete and being a true sportsman that makes Whitley the Osceola Gazette Male Weightlifter of the Year, an honor he shares with teammate Sheldon McGinnis.
Whitley’s five second place points helped St. Cloud finish sixth at the Class 2A state meet.
“TJ has always had to battle,” St. Cloud Coach Cory Aun said. “A medical condition has resulted in TJ having to undergo surgery after surgery. But he has never let that stand in his way of achieving his goals. He’s one of the gutsiest, most courageous athletes I have ever coached.”
In the state final, both Whitley and Piscopo hoisted 295 pounds in the bench press.
Whitely failed in his first clean and jerk attempt of 255 pounds and Piscopo nailed his 270-pound effort to take a commanding lead. Whitley had to use his second lift to clear 255 and Piscopo cleared 280 in his second attempt to take a seemingly insurmountable 25-pound lead into the final round.
“When TJ missed his first attempt, it really changed our strategy,” Aun said. “Still we decided on a 280-pound attempt for his third and final lift and that was a crazy jump over his previous attempt. Usually you go up 5 or maybe 10 pounds; to make a 25-pound jump and then nail it was incredible. But, TJ just destroyed it. It was one of the gutsiest lifts I have ever seen”
While meeting his family and friends backstage, Whitley was almost giddy despite losing the state title because of the tie-breaker.
“Making states was an absolute dream come true and then to place second was a great feeling,” Whitley said. “This sport is different in that one slip can change the outcome and when I fell on my first clean and jerk attempt, it put me at a big disadvantage. But at the end of the day, I was able to walk away knowing that I gave it my best shot.”
Like McGinnis, who finished second at 119, Whitley is currently weighing his options. The recently graduated senior may travel to Minnesota and interview for a spot in the USA Olympic Weight Training program.