Friendly competition: Freeman sprinters Helma and Schmidt put friendship ahead of rivalry
FREEMAN—When the starter's gun fires, Freeman sprinters Collin Helma and Braxton Schmidt are rivals. But once they cross the finish line and the results are in, animosity and jealousy is nonexistent.
The two Flyers are two of the top sprinters in Class B, with Helma capping his freshman season by winning the 2018 state championship in the 400-meter dash, while Schmidt has placed fourth two years in a row. They also served as half the 4x100, 4x200 and 4x400 state title-winning relay teams that led Freeman to the Class B overall championship.
With the other half of those relay teams—Dalton Bodewitz and Charles Harberts—lost to graduation, early indications point to Flyers not having the numbers to defend their crown. It also means Helma and Schmidt will go from competing with each other in three events the last two seasons to competing against each other in three events—the open 100, 200 and 400—but don't expect that to negatively affect their friendship.
"That will never get in the way," Freeman head coach Chris Maske said. "They do such a great job of feeding off each other and encouraging each other that there won't be any issues there, for sure."
Helma competed in relays at the state meet as an eighth-grader, but truly burst onto the scene last season. He raced to a state championship in the 400 in 49.96 seconds, besting Gayville-Volin's Taven McKee by 0.26 seconds.
This season, Helma is not only looking to improve on his 400 time, but he already crossed one goal off his list by breaking the 11-second barrier in the 100 with a 10.98 mark on Tuesday at the Fighting Cougar Invitational.
Schmidt—the younger brother of University of South Dakota standout Brennan Schmidt, who is the state's 400 record holder at 47.54—uses Helma's success to create his own. He sees the opportunity to compete against the defending state champion as an opportunity to improve.
"Every day, for me, is like a state track meet," Schmidt said. "It's really nice to run against that competition in practice and be prepared when it comes time for the meets. ... You have the confidence at race time to perform your best."
The pair have also traded victories in events during the early portion of the season. At the Scotland Invitational on April 2, Helma edged Schmidt in the 400, while also nipping him by 0.11 seconds in the 100. In the 200, though, the senior beat Helma by 0.12 seconds.
Maske admits Helma and Schmidt have a competitive desire to outdo each other during races and chasing one another in various events keeps that desire alive.
"It makes it fun," Helma said. "It means that we're both working the best that we can."
The season is still young, so Maske has pondered having his two standouts attempt a field event, but their focus is likely to remain in the sprints. Freeman also has yet to completely rule out fielding relay teams, but signs currently point to the contrary.
Helma and Schmidt are slightly disappointed in not being able to defend their state championships, particularly after placing in the top five in two consecutive seasons.
"It's definitely disappointing," Schmidt said. "I thought coming off a state championship, more guys would want to come out. That's kind of out of our hands, I guess. We'll try to do the best we can with what we have."