CAHOKIA — It took Cahokia's Ja'Mari Ward less then half a season to establish himself as the top freshman in the nation in the long jump and triple jump a year ago.
Establishing himself as the premier sophomore in the country didn't take nearly as long.
Competing at the Triad Knights Indoor Invitational on Saturday at Principia College in Elsah, Ward broke the national record for a sophomore with a winning leap of 50 feet 2 1/2 inches in the triple jump.
According to Dyestat TFX lists, Ward is the first sophomore to jump more than 50 feet indoors. The old record of 49 feet, 9 1/2 inches was set by Maurice Robinson of Mobile, Ala.
"I went 48 feet, 7 inches on my first jump and scratched on my second attempt. The third one I knew I hit it pretty good. I didn't know it was 50 feet though," Ward said. "I just jump. I knew it was out there.''
Veteran Cahokia coach Leroy Millsap did know far his high school all-American jumped.
"I had a piece of tape marked off at 50 feet and he was over it. He was jumping well that night. The previous jump that he barely scratched on was over 52 feet,'' Millsap said. "Ja'Mari is focused. He's dedicated and he's so talented. I think he realizes how good he can be.''
The leap of 50 feet 2 1/2 inches is the second longest in the nation overall.
Also on Saturday, Ward won the long jump with a distance of 23 feet 11 1/2 inches which is currently the fourth best in the nation.
Ward won the Class 2A state title in the long jump a year ago and placed third in the triple jump as Cahokia coasted to its third straight Class 2A state crown.
The meet was the fourth of the indoor season for Ward, who in working with the National Scholastic Athletics Foundation Project Triple Jump and USA Track and Field, is getting a chance to compete and getting extensive training with the best athletes in the nation.
Ward has already competed at the University of Arkansas, where he jumped 49 feet. Ward has also been over 48 feet at meets held at Boise State University and at the University of Missouri.
"I feel like I'm ahead of schedule. I'm stronger, bigger and faster this year and because of the drills I'm doing and the program that coach Millsap has me in, I'm doing well," Ward said. "My goals this year are to go 52-53 feet in the triple jump and then over 25 feet in the long jump. I think they're both realistic."
Ward who has a sparkling 4.0 grade point average, will compete this weekend at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington.
Ward's 50 feet 2 1/2 jump is the second longest in Cahokia history behind Kali Jackson's jump of 52 feet 5 3/4 inch back in 2006.
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at 239-2661 or firstname.lastname@example.org