By Cory Mull - MileSplit National
AUSTIN, TEXAS -- Very rarely a moment exists in high school sports when one athlete cultivates such a gravitational pull among those around him.
But then again, it's been a surreal season for Matthew Boling.
And perhaps nothing epitomized this rapid ascent into the zeitgeist of sports relevance more than in the 30 or so minutes after his heroic finish in the final race of the UIL Track and Field Championships on Saturday at Mike Myers Stadium, in what can only be described as a once-in-a-lifetime 4x400 meter relay moment.
Chasing down his competition in his final high school race, the Houston Strake Jesuit senior unleashed an unforgettable 400 meter leg--which included making up a 30-meter deficit--that concluded with a 44.74 second split en route to his team's win in a nation-leading time of 3:10.56.
"The crowd was crazy," Boling said afterward. "It sounded like thunder."
Ultimately, it was a fitting climax for one of the most talked about athletes in the country, and a surprising moment of theater that met the demand for the 10,000-or-so fans that stuck around for the finale of the Texas Championships.
Hundreds of fans surrounded Boling afterward, in a dizzying crush that actually prompted a police officer, who had been providing a security detail, to step in and separate the masses. In true Texas fashion, the officer wore a cowboy hat.
This was the culmination of weeks of nationwide attention, from mentions on ESPN's High Noon, to interviews with the BBC and Dan Patrick Radio Show, to videos profiling Boling and his team training before the state championships.
Through it all, it seemed as though Boling never skipped a beat. He was poised, even cool.
"It's not as hard as you think [to deal with]," Boling told an ESPN reporter at the state meet. "At first, yeah, but then I just got used to it."
At one point, at approximately 11:15 p.m., Boling put on a pair of sunglasses and ate a sugar cookie.
And in many ways, it was a reminder that he still had the entire track and field universe wrapped around his every move, that he still inspired hope as the first high school sprinter since 2013 to break 10 seconds in the 100 meter dash.
Hundreds of adoring fans lined up for pictures or autographs. Hundreds of online comments flooded the likes of Twitter and Facebook. Nearly 30 media members surrounded Boling with microphones and cameras after his 100 meter win, peppering him with an insane amount of questions.
How does this experience feel?
How fast can you go?
Where can your track and field future take you?
Boling hit stratospheric levels of sport.
No doubt, he also cemented one of the most impressive state championship performances in recent Texas history, winning the 100 meter dash in a wind-legal and state and National Federation of High School Athletic Association record of 10.13 seconds, claimed another state title in the long jump (25 feet, 4.5 inches) and anchored the team's 4x100 relay.
In truth, that was the only disappointment in this entire sequence of moments. Strake Jesuit, which finished third, was disqualified for a zone violation--in a decision that ultimately cost the team its first state championship in school history; the team was runner-up by just four points.
Afterward, the team's coach, Chad Collier, accepted blame.
"We made some adjustments that didn't work. I will take full responsibility for that," he said.
But in high school sports, as in life, no one or no team is infallible. There are peaks and valleys, chances for mistakes to made and races to be won or lost.
The 4x400 was Boling's time to shine.
"I got it and just focused on that guy in front of me," he said.
He did indeed keep it close, reasonably--within 30 meters--and handed off one final time to the friend and teammate he developed a bond with over the course of this relay.
"I maybe took 10 seconds to breathe afterward," Pittenger said, "and then said to myself, 'OK, maybe I'll watch.'"
Collier clenched his teeth throughout the procession, simply hoping something would fall the team's way.
"This is the highs and lows of track and field," he said. "And the one thing I'll always say, 'Sometimes sports mirrors life.' There was no bigger stage and no bigger performance. He came through for us."
It was hard for this moment not to feel magnetic for Boling's father, either. Watching from the periphery, Mark Boling had witnessed his son's slow rise from good high school athlete to superstar within the context of a few weeks.
"The attention is a little bit surreal," he said. "This is a kid I still have to yell at to pick up his clothing in his room."
In all honestly, Boling, still a high school athlete and teenager, didn't quite have the words for it afterward. Who would? Who could forge a perspective on this media hurricane?
A high school athlete being personally escorted by a police officer during a track meet? Has that even happened before?
"It was a good experience," he said.
So in some ways, the Houston-area senior, still just 18 years old, needs to let this memory dissolve and fade before it comes back into focus years from now.
That will happen some day, hopefully not soon, hopefully decades from now after many years of success, the years only Boling can determine from here on out.
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Contact MileSplit National Writer Cory Mull at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @bycorymull