Dunham carries on Spartans’ legacy

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Boardman’s Mitchel Dunham, right, runs ahead of West Branch’s Jeff Joseph, left, during Saturday’s Mahoning County Meet at Austintown Fitch High School. South Range’s Spencer Bush, background, also runs in the pack in the 3,200-meter run.

AUSTINTOWN — Mitchel Dunham couldn’t shake West Branch senior Jeff Joseph on Saturday.

The Boardman High School junior distance runner didn’t know much about the Warriors’ athlete.

All Dunham did was go on instinct, holding off Jones in winning the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs, along with anchoring and beating out West Branch again to lead the Spartans to the win in the 4×800 relay at this year’s Mahoning County Meet.

“He had to give a little more effort than he expected today,” said Boardman boys track and field coach John Phillips. “He basically goes by feel. One of the nice things about Mitchel, the experience he has, he’s a very intelligent runner. He knows when he needs to go. I really don’t have to micromanage with him. It’s really not my coaching style anyway.

“He’s a good feel runner and today was a good example of that.”

Dunham has run 4:28.14 in the 1,600, 9:39.75 in the 3,200 and 2:05.06 in the 800. He prefers running the 1,600. He said he has a shot of getting to state in that event, making one of the top four at the Division I Austintown Regional, on the same track he ran on Saturday.

He constantly races against two of the state’s best 3,200 runners in Howland senior Vinny Mauri and Canfield senior Giovanni Copploe. That provides Dunham an extra spark.

“It motivates me to be as good as them the next year and the years to come and keep this distance running area good at distance,” Dunham said.

There’s a distance tradition at Boardman dating back to current North Carolina State women’s track and field coach Laurie Gomez-Henes, who won numerous state championships for the Spartans in the 1980s.

Mark Hadley, a 2013 Division I state cross country champion, and Youngstown State University runners Alan Burns and Chris Butler have been instrumental in Dunham’s progress.

“That helps,” Phillips said. “He’s able to pick their brains a little bit when it comes to some of his bigger races. It’s a nice thing about our program and something we take a lot of pride in. Once you graduate, our guys want to come back and give back. That’s something that I think that is very special about Boardman.”

Dunham wants to have his name etched with some of those elite Boardman runners.

“It gave me a goal to push and get up higher on the leader board,” he said.

Mentally, Dunham is a strong runner. He fights through the pain by keeping his mind on his racing form.

“I think about the rewards of finishing the race,” he said. “Once you cross the finish line going into the bell lap, you get a second wind always. I try to focus on the race and not think about it.”