Blankenship Shines But Track Takes Title

The annual Buckeyes Got Talent talent show keeps growing, and Evan Blankenship keeps falling short. The OSU football player again wowed the crowd with his singing abilities only to fall short, this time to an impressive dance production staged by the Buckeye track squads. Another winner was the Columbus Boys & Girls Club, which earned a record donation from the event.

Ohio State athletes often hear that teamwork can result in triumph.

When it came to the fourth annual Buckeyes Got Talent event Tuesday night in St. John Arena, that was true even for an individual sport like track and field.

The Buckeyes men's and women's squad – as well as some women's cross country racers – came together to win the title, topping nine other sports in the talent show that boasted record attendance and a record dollar amount raised of almost $10,000 for the Boys and Girls Club of Columbus.

"Track is an individual sport, so it was nice to have everybody together and having fun," said women's jumper Alana Gray. "It was a big collaboration and we put it all together. A lot of people didn't feel we could win, even some of our teammates. It was very fun. It feels great to win. They put our name on the plaque and it's going to be there forever."

The win marked the fourth in as many years for at least some subset of the track and field and cross country programs. The men's cross country team lost a tiebreaker in the inaugural event in 2007 before winning a tiebreaker with men's track a year later. Last year, men's track was victorious for a rendition of the "Single Ladies" dance before joining forces with the women's squad this year.

"This year everyone was like, ‘How are you going to top (last year),' and I'm like, ‘I don't think we are, to be honest,' " said men's distance runner Taylor Candella, who won the trophy for the third year in a row. "We weren't as confident this year, but getting the three-peat is sweet. To go our on top is awesome."

This year's winning performance included nearly 20 members of the squads in an elaborate dance routine that started with the men's and women's teams having a dance-off after starting the set by arguing about how the men nipped the women for last year's title.

The men's team danced to the Jay-Z track "On to the Next One" after the women began with Ester Dean's "Drop it Low." Members of the women's track and field team then joined to the tune of Miley Cyrus' "Hoedown Throwdown" before the entire ensemble finished dancing to the tune of "All I Do Is Win" by DJ Khaled.

"(Men's distance runner) Skyler Schmitt and I collaborated with the whole idea in general and then I went home and started on some dance moves," Gray said. "I have danced from the time I was 5 up until now so it's kind of natural to me."

Gray added practice for the routine sometimes took two to three hours per night.

For the third year in a row, football player Evan Blankenship wowed the crowd but fell just shy of victory. This year, the defensive lineman crooned a fantastic solo version of the Luther Vandross song "If Only For One Night" that had his head coach, Jim Tressel, tapping his feet in the St. John Arena stands.

"Evan is very talented," Tressel said afterward. "He did a great job. I'm proud of him. He's good. If it went to one singular talented person, he was the hands-down winner."

Considering that one of the qualifications for the title is costuming and Blankenship took the stage in a black button-down shirt and dress pants, he realized he was behind the eight-ball from the get go.

"I keep saying every year, I'm like, ‘I'll wear something funny and just sing,' " he said. "I even thought about mentioning it – ‘I don't have a costume, I don't have an act, all I do is get up here and sing.' "

As for the voice that has made him a Buckeyes Got Talent fan favorite during the past three years, Blankenship said, "It's just a god-given talent, to tell you the truth. I never took formal classes, I never took choir in high school. Just singing in the shower and practicing and doing my vocals up there. It's a nice gift to have."

An electric guitar performance by men's volleyball freshman Eric Dates earned third place.

The only other individual performer was softball All-American Sam Marder, whose dry humor was on display when she performed a rhythmic gymnastics routine in response to the fact that her Olympic dreams were dashed when her sport was recently dropped from the Summer Games.

Other teams to compete included men's soccer, rifle, wrestling, men's cross country, cheerleading and women's soccer.

The event was put on by OSU's Student-Athlete Advisory Board to benefit the Boys & Girls Club of Columbus. Judges were instructed to rate the teams on items like costumes, talent displayed and the reaction of the crowd to the performance.

OSU alum Kelsey Webb, a host of the "Morning Zoo" show on local radio station WNCI-FM, served as the emcee. The title sponsor, Safe Auto, was represented by two judges in former Buckeye men's basketball player Michael Redd and spokesperson Justin Case.

Other celebrity judges included Mike Commodore of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Mindy Kaling of NBC4 and Allison Pegg of Easy Columbus as well as representatives of the Boys & Girls Club.

"It takes a lot of coordination with a lot of different people," said Zach Stolarsky, an OSU wrestler and SAAB member. "I think everyone had a great time, and we raised so much money for the Boys & Girls Club. Hopefully they can keep providing great services for the people of inner-city Columbus."

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