CUMBERLAND — It wasn’t the fastest finishing kick in Maine high school cross country history, but Leavitt sophomore Jonathan Schomaker’s last 300 meters Saturday afternoon may have been the most inspiring.

On a day when Falmouth junior Sofie Matson broke an eight-year-old course record, three boys’ individual titles were in question until the end, and the Bonny Eagle, Greely and Maine Coast Waldorf girls and Falmouth, Greely and Maine Coast Waldorf boys claimed Southern Maine team titles, it was Schomaker who commanded the most attention.

Applause grew steadily from spectators and fellow competitors as Schomaker doggedly pumped the levers of his rugged five-wheeled chair over the final grassy slope of Twin Brook Recreation Area until he crossed the line in a time of 37 minutes, 21.49 seconds to become the Class B South boys’ wheelchair champion, the first in state history.

“I felt pride,” Schomaker said of coming through the homestretch to cap nearly a year-long fight with the Maine Principals’ Association, which denied him entry to last fall’s regional and state meets and initially did so again this September, citing safety concerns.

Earlier this month, however, the MPA reversed course and accepted recommendations made by coaches and meet officials. Shortly before noon on Saturday, Schomaker took his place alongside four Leavitt teammates and 96 other competitors in Class B and headed up a long grassy incline toward the woods.

The runners navigated through three loops – A twice, B and C – over a 3.1-mile course, while Schomaker, with his father, Jon, jogging or walking behind in jeans and a sweatshirt to prevent the chair from rolling backwards on hills, completed the B and C loops but skipped the A section. That meant Schomaker covered 1.92 miles, in a time within 20 seconds of the slowest Class B runner after subtracting the five seconds course marshals made him wait midrace to give a handful of runners the right of way at an intersection.

“This was a long time in coming, but well worth the effort,” said Jon Schomaker, 55, who accompanies his son at every race and practice. “Now we’ve opened the door to other people who might want to try this and not have to fight to get it done, so it’s a good day.”

A light-hearted moment occurred shortly after the start when one of two people toting television cameras stumbled while scrambling to get in front of the wheelchair and fell in a heap.

The high school sophomore shook his head and grinned. “All I can say,” he said, “is look at that idiot.”

Schomaker has pontocerrebellar hypoplasia, a rare neurological disorder that affects his gross and fine motor skills. His wheelchair is no ordinary model, but one with eight-speed internal-geared hubs, disc brakes and tires with treads of the sort found on mountain bikes.

His victory qualified him for next Saturday’s state championship meet, also scheduled for Twin Brook, whose most challenging hills are located on the A loop, covered twice by runners.

Meet director Mike Griffin said the wheelchair division created no problems for any participants, but officials are considering adding cones for spectators at the state meet to more clearly mark the wheelchair race course.

“I’m glad he got a chance to race and I’m glad they did it the way they did,” said longtime York High coach Ted Hutch. “It was a good feel all around.”

 

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