Dayton High senior treating NIAA Track Meet as business as usual
Serving your country or going to college? That is usually a decision you make during your teenage years.
That’s what sets Dayton High’s Benji Ply apart from others. Ply made his decision at the ripe age of 6.
“It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was 6,” said Ply, who’s participating in the high jump and pole vault plus a relay event at this weekend’s NIAA State Track & Field Championships at Del Sol High School. “I knew I wanted to serve my country at a young age. I saw a commercial for the Marine Corp on TV and decided I wanted to be a part of it.
“My dad (Kevin, assistant coach at Dayton) and I talked about going to college earlier in the year. But if I were going to college it would be just to compete in athletics.”
Despite the fact that this could be his last-ever competitive meet in his life, Ply is treating it as business as usual.
“I’m trying to go out and treat this like any other track meet,” Ply said. “I’m going to try and go out and have fun. If everything works out (and I win) it’s a good way to go out. If not then I’ve had a good high school career.”
Kevin Ply admits to having mixed emotions about his son’s decision.
“The coach in me would have liked to see him go on in college and compete, because I think he has the skills to compete,” the elder Ply said. “He had a dream to go into the Marine Corp and he never wavered from that. As a father, I couldn’t be prouder.”
Benji already has tested the Marine Corp waters during his high school days.
“He went to a mini version of boot camp,” Kevin Ply said. “I think he was 15. He loved it. He’s an active kid. It (the camp) fueled his fire.”
Benji reports to boot camp in September in San Diego.
A year ago, Ply won the 1A state high jump at 6-7, placed fourth in the pole vault at 13-feet, took fifth in the 110 high hurdles and ran a leg on the Dust Devils’ 1600-meter relay.
Ply failed to qualify this year in the 110 hurdles, but is a co-favorite in the high jump with R.J. Hubert from Moapa Valley, who cleared 6-7 last week. He will be battling Fallon’s Nathan Heck and Caleb Witsken from Moapa Valley in the pole vault. That duo went 14-9 and 14-6, respectively, last weekend.
The Dayton senior is looking forward to all of his events, but especially the high jump.
“This year I’m shooting for the stars,” he said. “I had a couple of good jumps at 6-8 at Fernley in the regionals. It’s that form and stuff that I’ve been working on. That’s where you get the extra inches. In my mind, I can get 6-10 and 7-feet if everything is perfect. I know I’ve set the bar a little high. State would be a great place to do it.”
Ply is looking forward to locking horns with Heck, who he sees often during the season. He was second a week ago to Heck at Fernley.
“Nathan is a great kid,” Ply said. “I respect him and he respects other competitors.”
Ply knows he may have to PR to win the event, and he has put in plenty of time on the event.
“I’ve been practicing the event a little more, and I put in time in the off-season,” Ply said. “I think 15 feet is reachable, 15-6 if my technique is sound. I think 16 feet is a long shot. I have had some huge vaults on my 14-7 pole last year. I have a 15-foot pole and I’ve been working hard getting used to it. It’s a matter of a lot of things coming together.”
It’s not surprising Benji Ply is involved in track and jumping events in particular. He has been around the sport since he was a young child. Kevin was a high school coach in Southern California before coming to northern Nevada. The elder Ply teaches physical education in the Carson City School District.
“My wife has a photo of when I was coaching at Victorville High School,” coach Ply said. “He is sitting on my shoulders while I was coaching. He has always been around it. When I moved up here and started coaching, he was always playing around in the pit. My wife has another picture of him pole vaulting when he was 4 or 5.”
Father and son working together isn’t always an easy thing. Sometimes it’s not easy to separate sports from home life.
“It’s all pretty good,” Benji Ply said. “I’m not very disciplined at times. When I’m not extremely focused, he knows what to do. He can see it. He knows me inside and out. It’s special to have him out there with me.
This weekend is actually a family affair times two. Benji’s younger brother, J.J., is also competing in Las Vegas. J.J. is in the 110 hurdles, high jump and pole vault.
The two brothers will be going head to head in the high jump and pole vault.