A simple letter from a coach altered Preston Decker’s athletic future.
It was the summer before Decker was going to begin his freshman year at Fremont High School. He had participated in organized baseball and basketball throughout his childhood. He even tried track at Fremont Middle School.
“I was a hurdler and I wasn’t very good,” said Decker, who is now a senior for the Tigers.
A letter came in the mail from Fremont High School cross country coach Sean McMahon. It was a suggestion to join the Tigers’ cross country team that fall.
“I was like, why not? I wasn’t doing a fall sport at all. I thought I would give it a try,” Decker said. “I ended up loving it. I met all of these guys that became friends and it changed my life.”
Decker has been part of a talented senior class of distance runners for the Tigers that also includes Jason Bechtel, Spencer Bobbett, Brock Hegarty, Pehrson Huss, Sage Reiger, Jack Schulz and Jake Weston. All qualified for the state track meet that is scheduled for Friday and Saturday at Omaha Burke.
Decker is among the state leaders in the 1,600 meters with a personal best of 4:24.84. He will also compete in the 3,200-meter relay with Huss, Hegarty and Weston. Bechtel will serve as an alternate.
“It has been awesome running and competing with all of these guys,” Decker said. “I wouldn’t want to do it with any other group. We help each other. During a workout, if the pace slows there is someone there to get you back on track and push you.”
Reiger, Schulz, Decker and Weston were joined by sophomore Jose Gonzalez and juniors CJ Martinez and Chase Cate on the Tigers’ state runner-up cross country team. Millard West, led by individual champion Seth Hirsch, edged FHS by two points.
“Millard West was and is a fantastic team,” Decker said. “We were disappointed (in finishing second), but we also wanted to use it as motivation going into track.”
The track season has been a memorable one for the Tigers, including team championships in the Heartland Athletic Conference and A-1 district meets. Decker was second to Hirsch in the 1,600 and ran on the Tigers’ winning 4x8 relay team at the latter event.
“This year has been phenomenal,” said Decker, whose personal best in the 1,600 last season was 4:35. “I’ve made leaps and bounds (improvement) from prior years.”
While Decker has been pleased with his individual improvement, he is more satisfied to see the team’s success. Many athletes have played prominent roles for the Tigers.
“We knew coming into the season we would have a solid distance group and that Dallas (Thompson) would be really good in the shot,” Decker said. “We also knew had Jake Sellon in the (pole) vault and Lucas (Arps) in the 400, but a lot of other guys have really shined. It is awesome to have team championships from all of these meets. I didn’t expect it, personally, but we’ve been rolling since the first meet.”
The Tigers are hoping to also end the season on a high note.
“We haven’t really talked about it, but I’d like to win because I’m very competitive,” Decker said. “I think if we could be in the top three at state that would be fantastic. There are probably about five different teams that could come away with the championship.”
Decker is hoping to finish his prep career with a pair of medals.
“In the 4 by 8, we are going for the win,” he said. “We think we have a shot with the guys we have running it. We want to break 8 (minutes).”
Fremont coach Dave Sellon is confident in the 12th-grade foursome that will run Friday morning.
“There isn’t a clear-cut team that everyone knows will run way under 8 minutes,” he said. “It will be a great race and we’re hoping that we’ll be right there at the top. It would be a great way for that senior group to go out.”
The 1,600 on Saturday afternoon will feature Hirsch, who has signed with the University of Wisconsin, and Omaha Westside standout Milo Greder, who will run for Iowa State.
“I’m excited for that race,” Decker said. “They’ll take the pace out fast and they’ll push you to run a fast time. I hope to place high and break 4:20.”
Sellon would like nothing better than to see Decker, who will run next fall for Nebraska Wesleyan, close his prep career out in style.
“He is going to run great,” he said. “We’ll see how the competition plays out because the mile field is crowded at the top this year. He’ll have to run well to get a medal and we plan on him getting a medal. He has proven he is a solid, tough competitor week in and week out.”