A Sports Column: Olympics are a really good show

Tynia Gaither reached the 200 meters semifinals at the Rio Olympics. Photo/Special to the News-Gazette

Osceola High graduate Tynia Gaither reached the 200 meters semifinals at the Rio Olympics. Photo/Special to the News-Gazette

By Rick Pedone

Although it’s probably better to watch from a distance, the Rio Olympics have provided quite a show for NBC’s viewing audience for the past two weeks.

The Summer Games wrap up this weekend, but not before providing historic performances from a variety of athletes.

From this point on, U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps will be regarded as the greatest Olympian of the modern era after picking up five more gold medals, bringing his 16-year career total to 23 golds and 28 total.

It is an achievement that is unfathomable and one that may never be equaled.

Jamaica’s Usain Bolt maintained his status as the world’s fastest human for the third Olympics in a row with an almost routine victory at 100 meters Sunday. Bolt “coasted” in at 9.8 seconds, far above his Olympics record of 9.6, but he would have run faster if he needed to.

Along with those jaw-dropping performances, the U.S. gymnastics women’s team and both of the U.S. swimming teams were monsters at Rio. The swimmers brought home 38 medals, one of the most significant coming to Simone Manuel, the Stanford graduate who became the first African American to earn an individual gold swimming medal when she tied for the 100 freestyle championship.

The USA female gymnasts won their second consecutive team championship led by the phenomenal Simone Biles, the individual all-around champ who is being considered as the greatest female gymnast of all time.

There are too many more accomplishments to talk about here, but it has been a good show, as long as you weren’t out at 4 in the morning in Rio getting robbed like Ryan Lochte and several other U.S. swimmers were.

Local Olympians Antonio Vargas, the USA flyweight, and Tynia Gaither, the Osceola High sprinter representing the Bahamas, both had their moments at Rio this week.

Vargas won his first fight Saturday over Brazlian Juliao Neto before a hostile hometown crowd, and Gaither qualified for the 200 meters semifinals after moving out of Monday’s preliminaries with a 22.90 time.

Vargas lost in the round of 16 against one of the toughest boxers in the competition, ending his medal chances, and Gaither faced a tall order to get out of the 200 semifinals Tuesday against a star-studded field, but both athletes represented themselves, their nations, and Kissimmee well.

It’s hard to believe that the school year has begun and that Chuck Hitt won’t be manning an athletic director’s position or a coaching spot at one of the county’s high schools.

Hitt retired in June after 27 years in Osceola County. No one worked harder to make their athletic program a success than Hitt, who led Harmony to seven Orange Belt Conference all-sports championships since the school opened in 2003.

Influenced by former St. Cloud AD and Harmony Coach Mike Fields, and former Poinciana and Osceola AD Mal Harpell, two men who helped to establish the “modern era” for Osceola County high school athletics, Hitt did everything he could to put his athletes and coaches in a good place.

He also was an invaluable resource to other coaches and ADs who asked for his help, and for media members who were covering the Longhorns.

Chuck helped me out so many times about so many topics that I couldn’t possibly recall half of them. We probably spent a million hours at Longhorns athletic events talking about the school and anything else that seemed relevant, and I will miss those chats.

Chuck and his wife, Nancy, who also served the community as an outstanding career educator, touched countless lives and deserve our thanks for their efforts.

I’m sure many in the community join me in wishing them both a healthy and rewarding retirement.

The good news for Harmony is that John Wallauer Jr. has succeeded Hitt as the AD. Wallauer is one of the area’s great young coaching talents, dedicated and knowledgeable.

We lost another beloved member of the county’s educational community Aug. 3 when Mary Anne Harpell, Mal Harpell’s wife of 33 years, passed away of natural causes at the too young age of 57.

She was a recently retired career educator of 30 years in Osceola County and a member of Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers. Thousands of her former Central Avenue Elementary and Kissimmee Elementary school students no doubt feel a void today because of her passing.

Although Mary Anne never was a coach, she became an invaluable member of Mal Harpell’s basketball, track and cross country teams for nearly 30 years in Osceola County both at Osceola High and at Poinciana High.

She orchestrated spaghetti dinners for the athletes and drove them to their competitions, when she sometimes was the only fan in the stands to cheer them on.

The Harpells were often parental figures to students who were trying to cope with dysfunctional family situations.

Their caring and concern turned the lives of many youngsters in the right direction.

Our sympathy to Mal Harpell and the family.