From many, there will be one. And while there’s still no guarantee contending athletes will win their own state at this point in the season, a number of elite performers are making a case for Gatorade National Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year consideration. Here’s the scoop on the latest top candidate.
Junior, Cahokia (Cahokia, Ill.)
Greatness Present: Two years ago, Ja’Mari Ward broke the U.S. prep national freshman record in the triple jump. Last year, he shattered the national sophomore mark. If Ward topples the junior record this year, well, that would just be called the national high school record—54 feet, 10.25 inches, set by Gatorade Louisiana Boys Track & Field Athlete of the Year Kenny Hall in 2004. But don’t bet against him.
Already, Ward rolled out of bed for his first invitational of the season and notched 2015 U.S. No. 1 efforts in both the triple jump (51-11) and long jump (24-10) to break the meet records at the Norm Armstrong Invitational on April 11. Both marks are already career outdoor personal bests, and he’s got almost a full season to top them.
Of course, the outdoor heroics are just a follow-up to Ward’s dominant indoor campaign. The 6-foot junior was the Athlete of the Meet at the New Balance Nationals Indoor in March, when he swept both the long jump and triple jump in, naturally, record-breaking fashion. He logged three jumps better than anyone else’s best in each event and set meet records in both. He leapt 25-7.25 and 51-5.75, respectively submitting the No. 6 long jump and No. 11 triple jump in U.S. indoor prep history.
Remarkably, Ward still doesn’t hold his own school’s record. Kali Jackson, one of his predecessors at Cahokia’s jumping factory, soared 52-5.75 in 2006. Just one more milestone Ward has to topple.
Greatness Past: Ward won and individual 2014 Class 2A state title in the triple jump and placed second in the long jump at the state meet, despite spraining his ankle on his first attempt of the finals. This past July, he finished fifth in the triple jump and seventh in the long jump at the national USA Track & Field Junior Outdoor Championships.
Greatness Future: Ward aims to improve on his three career state titles at the 2015 Illinois state championship meet on May 29.
Make no mistake: The Gatorade State Boys Track & Field Athlete of the Year races aren’t over, and the National AOY race is now heating up. Time remains for one standout student-athlete among thousands to rise to the top of our list. Check back for daily updates on the top contenders making their case.