Legacy. Tradition. A who’s who of American sport. As the Gatorade Player of the Year program celebrates its 30th anniversary year of honoring the nation’s best high school athletes, fans can count many a household name on the roster of former award-winners. Over the past three decades, prep sports’ most esteemed honor boasts Super Bowl, World Series, NBA, WNBA, MLS Cup, NCAA and Olympic champions among more than 13,000 State Players of the Year and 270 National POYs across 12 sports. Let’s not forget the scores of program alumni who have gone on to capture league-MVP, All-Star and All-American recognition. Today, we’re catching up with Kaylin Whitney.
The NBA forces high school basketball stars to spend one year in college before turning pro. Increasingly, however, high school track stars are turning pro before they even reach their high school graduation days.
Following in the rather fast footsteps of 2013-14 Gatorade National Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year Alexa Efraimson and 2011-12 Gatorade New York Girls Track & Field Athlete of the Year Mary Cain, yet another Gatorade alumnae opted to forego her high school eligibility this year.
Kaylin Whitney, the under-18 world record holder in both the 100- and 200-meter dashes, swapped her final year-and-a-half of prep competition for a contract with Nike, which she signed on March 9, her 17th birthday.
Whitney made her professional debut this past weekend at the Texas Relays, anchoring Team USA’s winning 4×100 relay with a time of 43.41 seconds in the invitational race. In addition to Whitney, the first-place relay squad also featured three-time Gatorade Illinois Girls Track & Field Athlete of the Year Alex Anderson (2003-05) as well as Jessica Young and Lekeisha Lawson.
It’s just the first step on what Whitney, the 2013-14 Gatorade Florida Girls Track & Field Athlete of the Year, hopes will be a journey to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where she could become the youngest U.S. track and field competitor in 40 years.
Whitney first burst onto the national radar when she shattered national age group records in the 100 and 200 as a 14-year-old, breaking the marks held by Olympic gold medalist and 2002 Gatorade National Girls Track & Field Athlete of the Year Sanya Richards. She went on to sweep individual state titles in the 100 and 200 for Clermont (Fla.) East Ridge as both a freshman and sophomore. After that sophomore campaign, she competed at the USA Track & Field Junior Nationals, where she turned in her world record-breaking youth performances of 11.10 seconds in the 100 and 22.49 in the 200.
Her time in the 100 also broke the U.S. high prep previously held by 1997-98 Gatorade National Girls Track & Field Athlete of the Year Angela Williams, while her 200 clocking moved to second on the all-time prep list behind Olympic gold medalist and 2003 Gatorade National honoree Allyson Felix.
Now being trained by former Olympian Dennis Mitchell, Whitney plans to complete high school early by taking online classes. She could run her first individual events as a professional at the Prefontaine Classic on May 29-30.
From there, it’s just a few more giant steps to Rio.
To see the legacy for yourself, visit the Gatorade Player of the Year winner archive, where you can relive history and see which future stars won their first national recognition as high school athletes. To see the cream of the crop, visit the roster of Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year winners, showcasing Gatorade’s top male and female National Player of the Year honoree, selected annually from each POY class.