Strongest Zephyr part of WHS history since 1998
Some people may think that the Indy 500 is the premier sporting event over the Memorial Day weekend, but folks in Whitehall may point to another event that has its own die-hard following that could one day rival the race at the Brickyard.
They gathered at Whitehall High School the Friday afternoon before Memorial Day to see who would emerge as the World’s Strongest Zephyr. Television cameras (well, one at least) were trained on the athletes during the grueling competition. The bleachers were packed to witness this event of strength, stamina and willpower. Who would survive the gauntlet of events, their names forever etched in the bowels of the weight room for everyone to see.
One by one the contestants entered, their alter egos taking center stage as Middle School coach Steve Piston announced their arrivals. Would it be Wildcat or Knight Rider? Who would be standing atop the pedestal as the World’s Strongest Zephyr?
Since 1998, the Whitehall Zephyr football team crowns champions in three weight classes: light, middle and heavy. The idea sprung from coaches Tony Cocca, Bob Panny, Piston, and Mike Yadush as a way to reward those athletes who made the grade in the weight room.
“Everybody had to qualify,” said Yadush. “That’s how you got into the competition.”
Yadush also said that cable television was also an inspiration, with ESPN’s airing of the World’s Strongest Man competition gaining wide audiences.
This year’s contestants included Dez Boykin, Darwin Cofield, Shaver Hussett, Braxton Marrero, Jakob Hudak, Markes Cruz, Ian Kulp, Justin Santiago, Bret Legath, Randy Okungu, Liam Sullivan and Javal Reyes.
Whitehall head coach Brian Gilbert said that it helps bring the team together in a relaxed environment while they engage in some entertaining competitions.
“It’s a fun way to end the school year,” especially for the guys who have been in the weight room through the whole off season,” said Gilbert. “The participants are the ones who tested out the best in the weight room so it was a good way for them to compete.
“Any time you can compete against each other in whatever format it is, it’s a good thing.”
Bragging rights serve as a big motivation for each competitor to see who can emerge as the champ. Each event tests one’s strength and willpower, none more so than the bucket challenge. With their arms outstretched and parallel to the ground, they hold two weighted buckets as long as possible. Soon their bodies begin to quiver and their legs turn to jelly. Grimaces mark their faces as they try to outlast one another. As the seconds tick away, so does their resolve, and soon competitors drop out until the final two competitors stand face to face, each looking to gain that mental edge to see who can withstand this clash of wills.
Along with the bucket challenge, they also competed in the obstacle course, tire flip, wheelbarrow race, and the clean and press, with the final event the much ballyhooed tug of war.
When the dust finally settled, the three champs from their respective weight classes took their rightful places atop the pedestal. The winner in the lightweight bracket was Hussett, while Hudak was middleweight champ and Kulp was heavyweight king. It was Kulp’s second time as champ, having won last year as a sophomore. Boykin, a reigning two-time champ was knocked off by Hudak who claimed his first championship.
Hussett, who entered as Batman, will now have his name on the board for future Zephyrs to see. Hussett said that the clean and press was pretty challenging as they were timed to see who could clear 10 reps the quickest.
“At first I thought it was going to be harder, but it was pretty easy when I got into it,” said Hussett.
Hussett stayed consistent throughout every event to eventually win the lightweight division.