FORTVILLE — His head coach described him as a freshman phenom after his 2023 season, which included a Hancock County title in the 400-meter dash.

With that kind of performance as a first-year high school runner and expected improvements over the course of another year of training, it was easy to see that Mt. Vernon sophomore Sebastian Sprague had all the tools and talent to represent the Marauders at the 2024 IHSAA Boys Track and Field State Finals.

Sprague will be competing in two events at today’s state meet in Bloomington, but a lot changed from the end of his freshman season to getting on the bus to Bloomington to compete for the Marauders in the long jump and 4×400-meter relay.

Born with VSD (ventricular septal defect) a hole in the heart that’s present at birth, Sprague had yearly checkups to make sure everything was okay for him to participate in sports. The hole was never big enough that it caused issue, but with its closeness to the aortic valve, the valve was always leaking. When doctors told the Sprague family in early December that the leaking had gone from trivial to mild, they said Sebastian would need heart surgery.

“It was pretty shocking,” Sebastian said. “I go every year back to Riley (Children’s Hospital) for a checkup, an EKG, tests. I went into the room and the doctor said, ‘I have bad news, you have to have heart surgery.’ I just sat there … I was shocked. The car ride back from the hospital was really tough. I went to school the rest of the day and had a (basketball) game later that day.”

“I remember driving down the highway from Riley to drop him off at school. He had that 10-mile stare just looking out the window,” his father, an assistant track coach, Alex Sprague said. “It just hit that it was horrible that he had to have this surgery. I looked at him and it just broke my heart. We got through it. It was hard. For me it was a very hard few weeks (before the surgery), I tried to be strong but there were a lot of times I had to break down.”

It had already been a rough summer.

Sebastian was training to compete in the freshman 400 and 4×400 relay for the New Balance Nationals Track and Field meet when he had to have emergency surgery for a testicular torsion. That happened in June. In August, he had to have hernia surgery.

But the surgery he had to have on Dec. 28, 2023 was the big one.

Doctors said it would be okay if he wanted to wait until after the school year to have it, but Sebastian said he wanted to get it done and over with.

Mt. Vernon’s Sebastian Sprague had heart surgery in December. The sophomore set a school record this year in the long jump and qualified for the IHSAA Boys Track and Field State finals in the long jump and the 1600-meter relay.

They also told him he probably wouldn’t have a track and field season and there was also concern, because of the contact in the sport, that basketball season may be in question, too.

“Doctors told me it would be hard,” Sebastian said. “The recovery time is different for everybody.”

Beginning with short, slow walks in January, Sebastian gradually picked up the pace.

There was no pressure to get back.

Alex wanted to make sure his son was safe to compete and head coach Nick Clarkson was quick to let them know Sebastian’s health and safety were the top priorities.

After a hospital stress test, Sebastian was cleared to fully train right before the team’s first meet.

“It was out of my mind (that Sebastian would compete this season),” Clarkson said. “He was awesome, a phenom as a freshman. It was disappointing that we were going to lose him for the season, at the same time his health is No. 1 and that’s what you care about the kids for. We just moved one.

From his hospital bed after having heart surgery, Mt. Vernon sophomore Sebastian Sprague watches his teammates play a game against Columbus East.

“As the season goes on, I see Sebastian at a January practice and he has this protection pillow to make sure someone doesn’t bump into his chest. He said he felt fine, and I told him to come back any time, be a part of program, even if you’re not running, be around.”

All decided returning to normal track and field practice would be deliberate.

Clarkson and his coaching staff would run their practices and Sebastian would be doing his own thing on the side.

“(I see him) walking, doing some light jogging,” Clarkson said. “Slowly but surely he started getting a little bit of speed under his belt. It was March and he’s jogging around now. (Alex) was very purposeful, intent about all of his actions to make sure he was safe.”

Sebastian competed in an early junior varsity race and began adding to his regimen.

In April, he was not just competing in meets, he was setting records. At a weekend invitational he set the school record in the long jump with a distance of 22-feet, 5 1/4-inches. He was also part of a 4×100-meter school record relay team.

He finally ran his first open 400 race at the May 1 Hancock County meet. He won the race to become a two-time county champion in the event.

Mt. Vernon’s Sebastian Sprague won the 400-meter dash at the Hancock County Meet for the second straight year.

He added Hoosier Heritage Conference champion to his accomplishments the following week, as well as joining teammates Charlie Cole, Tre Jones and Andres Langston on the victorious 4×400 relay team

He won both the long jump and the relay in the sectional to qualify for last week’s regional.

Adding a runner-up finish at the regional in the long jump and part of the third-place relay team, Sebastian earned him a spot in two events at today’s state finals.

Mt. Vernon’s Sebastian Sprague kicks up dirt when he lands on his way to winning the long jump event. ROB BAKER | DAILY REPORTER

“It’s unbelievable,” Alex said. “Every moment is a blessing. I don’t care (about what place he finishes) it’s state and we want to do the best we can, but also, you weren’t even supposed to be there. We planned on, ‘Don’t expect it. Don’t expect anything.’ You might come back (this season) and have a a crappy year at best. This is best case scenario — setting two school records (and going to state).”

Clarkson gives a ton of credit to Sebastian and his family, noting to have that kind of surgery and to come back in a sport like track and field is pretty amazing.

“Track is a weird sport, it’s not like football or even basketball where there’s a game involved and you want to be in shape for that game,” Clarkson said. “The whole purpose of track, you want to be at the best physical fitness level you could ever be in at this moment. You have to push your body to extreme levels and ride this fine line anyway. Even if you are 100 percent, there are no caveats or asterisk on your body. You are pushing these athletes, trying not to get them hurt because you are pushing them so far.

“With his surgery, they worked hard to make sure he was safe, but at the same time increasing his work load at a safe level. I marvel at what he’s been able to do. In the 400 and the 4×4, they are probably, in my opinion, the hardest two events on your heart. I don’t know scientifically, but the strain it puts on your body, it’s a hard race.”

I was hoping (getting to state), would be the goal, but I wasn’t really thinking about state I was just thinking about getting back,” Sebastian said. “Once I got back I was like, ‘alright, let’s get it.’”

2024 IHSAA Boys Track and Field State Finals

Site: Robert C. Haugh Track & Field Complex, Indiana University, Bloomington.

Admission: All tickets will be digital through your mobile phone and may be purchased through Eventlink (additional fees may apply). Present your purchase verification on your mobile phone at the gate for admission. $15 per person. Children age 5 and younger admitted free. All seats general admission. No pass outs.

Gates Open: The track stadium will open its gate to spectators on beginning at 9:30 am ET

Cashless Concessions: Please be aware that Indiana University concessions will only accept cashless payments.

Streaming: All competition will be streamed live at via pay-per-view for $15 per day.

Order of Today’s Events

3:00 p.m. – Pole Vault (Sawyer Ruminer, Mt. Vernon), Long Jump (Kirk Knecht, Greenfield-Central, Sebastian Sprague, Mt. Vernon) and Discus

3:30 p.m. – High Jump (Elliot Ryba, Greenfield-Central; Bradley Streveler, Greenfield-Central; Andres Langston, Mt. Vernon); Shot Put

4:15 p.m. – 3200-meter relay finals

5:00 p.m. – 100-meter dash trials

5:15 p.m. – 110-meter high hurdle trials (Andres Langston, Mt. Vernon)

5:40 p.m. – 200 M Dash trials (Kirk Knecht, Greenfield-Central; Tre Jones, Mt. Vernon)

6:10 p.m. – Opening Ceremonies

6:15 p.m. – 110-meter high hurdles (Andres Langston, Mt. Vernon)*

6:25 p.m. – 100-meter dash

6:35 p.m. – 1600-meter run (Carter Crouch, Greenfield-Central; Ahmed Saleh, Mt. Vernon)

6:45 p.m. – 400-meter relay

7:05 p.m. – 400-meter dash

7:20 p.m. – 300-meter low hurdles (Andres Langston, Mt. Vernon)

7:45 p.m. – 800-meter run (Caden Cassada, Mt. Vernon)

8:05 p.m. – 200-meter dash (Kirk Knecht, Greenfield-Central; Tre Jones, Mt. Vernon)*

8:15 p.m. – 3200-meter run (Christopher Ross, Greenfield-Central)

8:30 p.m. – 1600-meter relay (Mt. Vernon – Sebastian Sprague, Charlie Cole, Tre Jones, Andres Langston)

* Must qualify from trials