By Derrick Mahone
After doing some Internet research, Forest Park girls coach Paulette Ireland decided to move freshman Evante Belardo from the 800-meters to the 3,200 event.
The move paid big dividends for the Panthers track and field team Tuesday during the first day of the Region 4-AAAA championships at Southern Crescent Stadium.
Belardo finished runner-up to teammate Klarice Chandler in the 3,200 finals. Chandler, a senior, had a time of 13:18.3 to win the event with Belardo going 13:22 to finish runner-up.
"I think it was a good choice," Ireland joked.
"I just thought after looking at some times that they had a good shot at getting out the region. I was a little surprised at Evante, but I'm definitely happy."
The two earned a spot in the state meet May 6-8 at Hugh Mills Stadium in Albany.
In the only boys' running finals, Stockbridge runners Aaron Coleman and Roderick Byars swept the 1,600 event to earn state berths on May 13-15 at Memorial Stadium in Jefferson.
Chandler, who will attend Liberty University this fall, said winning region and going to state fulfills one of her senior goals.
However, the reality of winning Monday hadn't sunk in as she was exiting the infield moments after the surprising win.
"It probably won't click until I get home," Chandler said. "I didn't know I had that much energy. Coach has been telling me all season that I could go harder.
Now, I finally get to go to state."
Forest Park coach Ronald Washington was excited about Chandler finally putting together a complete race to win region.
"I've been telling her to leave everything on the track," Washington said. "She give every thing she had. Klarice stayed close to the leader the entire race before making her move. I haven't been this excited since Michael Jackson did the moonwalk."
Belardo has shown great potential since entering Forest Park at the beginning of the school year.
She won the county cross country championship and finished second at region.
During the state cross country championships in Carrollton in November, she finished 50th overall.
Last month, Belardo won the county 1,600 event.
The finals for the girls' 1,600 will be today.
Chandler was fourth at the county's 1,600 event and was fifth at the region cross country championship as Forest Park finished runner-up.
"Going one and two in this meet shows them what they are capable of doing," Washington said.
"They have come leaps and bounds since the start of the season. I'm hopeful that this will propel them to do well at state."
Roxie Carberry, who could barely clear the pole vault bar last season, is headed to state after finishing second in the region.
The junior had a jump of 8-feet to finish second to Ola's Ashlee Newsome, who went 9-0.
"I'm happy as all get out," Carberry said.
"This was awesome," Mount Zion coach Jason Battles said.
"I'm real excited for her."
Alcovy leads in the girls' standing with 119 points coming into today's finals. Ola is second at 80.5 point and Mount Zion has 64 points for third place.