By D.E. Wheeler

Daily Journal

Amidst all the running around and excitement about the Mississippi State basketball team being in the Final Four, there will be some pretty good athletes running Saturday in Tupelo.

The second annual Coca-Cola/Action Tri-State Challenge track and field invitational meet is set for Saturday on the athletic complex at Tupelo High School. The meet features a total of 12 schools, four each from Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama.

"You're not going to get talent like this together very often," Tupelo track coach Jamie Mitchell said. "We'll have numerous state champions from each state in I don't know how many events."

The meet begins at 10:30 a.m. Saturday with field events, which will run through 12:45 p.m. Track events begin at 11 a.m. with the 3,200 meters, while the rest of the track events begin at 12:30 p.m.

The schools representing Mississippi will be Tupelo, Pontotoc, Starkville and Pearl. Some of the Mississippi athletes worth watching include two each from Tupelo and Pontotoc.

In the high jump, Tupelo's Charles Penson has already jumped 6-6 this season, and discus thrower Pat Berry has the longest throw in the state thus far at 142 feet, 6 inches. From Pontotoc, Scott Whitesides has recorded a 10:14 in the 3,200 meters while William Stewart was second in this meet last year in the shot put.

Gardendale, Hewitt-Trussville, Tuscaloosa Central and Vestavia Hills (Tuscaloosa) are the schools from Alabama, which boasts three nationally recognized athletes from these schools.

Richmond Flowers III from Vestavia Hills placed sixth in the National Scholastic Indoor Nationals in the 60-meter hurdles already in 1996, and has an outdoor best time of 14.2 in the 110-meter hurdles. Also from Vestavia Hills, Riley Tomlinson won first place last summer in the AAU pole vault.

And from Gardendale, Palmer Manning is nationally ranked in the 400 meters with a personal best of 48.5 seconds.

The schools representing Tennessee will be Germantown, Houston (Germantown), Memphis Central and West Memphis (Ark.).

Tuscaloosa Central is favored to repeat as boys champion at the Tri-State Challenge, but Mitchell thinks that Vestavia Hills, on paper, has a good shot at challenging for the title. Central recently won the Alabama indoor track championship, with Vestavia Hills finishing second.

Mitchell also likes the chances of Memphis Central, the defending Class 6A state champion of Tennessee, and his own Tupelo team, coming off an impressive win at Ole Miss last week.

In the girls team competition, Mitchell feels that Gardendale, Houston, defending 4A Mississippi champion Starkville and Pontotoc will make strong runs at the team title.

"We have some folks traveling three to four hours, so we plan to be through by 4," Mitchell said. "I'm an MSU graduate, and I plan to be in front of the TV by 4:42 myself."

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