USA TODAY High School Sports is launching a series called “60 for ’16” to highlight 60 members of the Class of 2016 who we will be watching in the coming 12 months. The athletes were selected by the USA TODAY HSS staff.
Name: Ja’Mari Ward
School: Cahokia (Ill.) High School
Sport: Indoor/Outdoor Track & Field
Events: Long jump, triple jump, 4×100 relay, 4×200 relay
What we’ve seen: Looking for dominance? You’ll find it in Cahokia, in the form of Ja’Mari Ward. The rising senior is unquestionably the nation’s premier long and triple jumper, with the nation’s top triple jump (50 feet, 6 inches) and second-best long jump (25-0 1/4) distances in 2015. That long jump mark was good for an Illinois state record. Incredibly, he accomplished that while fighting off an ankle injury that is forcing him to sit out the summer so he can finally heal completely. That injury dates all the way back to the state meet his sophomore season.
Ward’s jumping distances are among the best in prep history, and they started early. He set the all-time prep freshman and sophomore records for the triple jump, and set indoor track records for both events at the New Balance Nationals Indoor Meet in March, marks that were good enough for 6th (triple jump) and 11th (long jump) in indoor prep history.
Ward’s 3.67 GPA is nothing to shake a stick at, either. He’s smart, fast (he anchors Cahokia’s state title-winning 4×100 squad), and driven to succeed at the highest level.
Why we’re watching: Health, health, health. Will Ward’s summer off the track save his ankle for a dominant senior campaign? A legitimate case can be made that if Ward was truly healthy, his junior campaign might have been one of the most dominant ever for any jumper. Additionally, we need to see Ward actually stick with his plan to take time off. The superstar leaper is already admitting that, “I really don’t like sitting around much.” The need to visit colleges should help with some of his restlessness, but he has to commit to it himself, too.
Should a health Ward hit the track come indoor track season in December, the whole nation should watch out … regardless of level.