CHARLESTON – One by one, Andy Accardi approached each of his athletes.
The Newman boys track and field coach placed a medal around each boy's neck, then followed that up with a hug and a heartfelt message.
Then the tears flowed.
Accardi was overcome by the moment after it became official that Newman won the Class 1A team title at the IHSA boys track and field meet Saturday at O'Brien Stadium on the campus of Eastern Illinois University.
The Comets finished with 41 points, 10 more than runner-up Monmouth-Roseville. It was the stuff of dreams, according to Accardi and senior sprinter Nick Rude.
"In my dreams, I never thought about this," said Accardi, who has coached Newman for 20 years and is also the school's athletic trainer. "I couldn't have picked a better group of kids to have win this. This is a special team."
"I would say it's a dream come true, but I've never even dreamed of this," Rude said. "You can dream about the relays winning, and you can dream about winning individually, but this is the greatest way us seniors could have ended our high school careers. We're all on top of the world right now. It feels amazing."
The Comets accomplished the school's eighth team state championship on the strength of a sublime corps of sprinters.
Brady Rude, a freshman, and seniors Maison Bittner, Tyler Rockwood and Nick Rude blazed to school-record time of 42.38 seconds in the 400-meter relay. It eclipsed the 42.77 the group had posted in the preliminary round Thursday.
"It's a perfect start," Nick Rude said shortly after winning the race and getting the team's first 10 points on the board. "We can't ask for any more than this right now. Our goal was to be state champs. At the beginning of the year, we didn't even know if our 4-by-1 would make the finals. Beating the school record is just a little icing on the cake."
Next up was 100 dash, with Nick Rude and Bittner in the finals. Rude place third with a time of 11.03 to score seven points, and Bittner wound up seventh in 11.13 to add three points.
The 800 relay was next, and Brady Rude, Bittner, Nolan McGinn and Nick Rude powered their way to a first-place time of 1:29.6. It wasn't their best time but, at that point, a steady rain had settled in, and the meet was being contested as quickly as possible to beat some nasty weather that was supposed to be on the way.
That likely had an effect on Nick Rude, who had little time to prepare for his next race, the 200. Expected to be among the favorites, he turned in a time of 22.93, well off the pace set by Monmouth-Roseville's Martel Hunter, who won in 22.3.
The last chance for the Comets to accumulate some points was in the 1,600 relay, and they came through with one of their top efforts.
Brady Rude, Rockwood, Alex DeForest and Bittner raced to a time of 3:24.34, good for third place behind Oregon (3:23.67) and Lena-Winslow (3:23.9). It was also a Newman school record, eclipsing a 3:26 posted in 2005 at the Oregon Sectional.
The seven team points boosted the Comets' total to 41 and cemented the team title.
"To end my track career with a pretty fast time of 3:24, I'm proud," DeForest said. "Our team, I couldn't have had this much satisfaction without those other three guys."
There wasn't a truly dominant small-school team in Class 1A this year, as opposed to Class 2A, in which Cahokia scored 99.5 points, more than double its nearest competition, to demolish the field. The title was there for the taking, even if the Comets wouldn't talk about it until their dream came true.
"It was the elephant in the room," Nick Rude said. "Once it started getting down to it, we all started thinking about it. I think it helped us in our events. We worked harder, because we knew we had to get the team points."
The track and field team title is Newman's eighth overall, with the football team (four titles), wrestling team (two) and cross country team accounting for the first seven.
"These kids have worked hard all year, just like any team that gets a state trophy," Newman athletic director Mike Papoccia said. "I'm just happy to see them get rewarded. Once again, the senior leadership has been unbelievable. I'm going to miss all these seniors. They were a great bunch of leaders, and they showed the younger kids how to work, and what it reaps. I'm just proud as heck of them all."