CAHOKIA — When Cahokia High School sophomore Jamari Ward entered O'Brien Stadium in Charleston in late May, he thought he had provided the Comanches a vital 20 points in their quest for a fourth straight Class 4A state title.
Ward wasn't overconfident. That's not Jamari Ward.
But owning sizable leads after jumps of 47-feet, 8 3/4-inches in the triple jump and 22-10 1/2 in the long jump from the preliminary round, Ward seemed to have the competitions under control.
But that changed.
Landing hard on an already tender right ankle on his first long jump attempt of the day, Ward limped out of the pit.
What he hoped would be a day he might hit the magic marks of 50 feet (triple jump) and 25 feet (long jump) had ended before it really started.
"The important part for me was the team winning the state title. I wanted to do my part in the jumps,'' Ward said later. "I was disappointed when coach (Leroy Millsap) pulled me out of the jumps for the rest of the day. But I understood.
"I jammed my ankle when I landed and he didn't want to take any chances with it.''
The 2013 state champion in the long jump, Ward saw his chances of repeating end when (Maple Park) Kaneland's Ben Barnes had a leap of 23-5 on his final attempt.
But keyed by a championship and runner-up finish in the triple jump from Ward and Jalon Monigan, the Comanches still went on to win their fourth straight state title.
"He (Ward) wanted to jump. I wasn't about to take any chances,'' Millsap said. "Jamari's got a great future ahead of him. I wasn't going to risk that. The young man's health comes first.''
With Millsap, a former Olympic alternate in the triple jump, overseeing Ward's track and field development and a strong parental and family support group guiding him, Ward seemingly has all the bases covered.
Soft-spoken, Ward is just a high school honor student who just happens to be one of the track and field athletes in the nation.
Recently named the Gatorade Male High School Track and Field Athlete of the Year in Illinois for the 2014 season, Ward is also the recipient of the Belleville News-Democrat co-Athlete of the Year honor.
He shares that honor with Patrick Perrier of O'Fallon.
"It was a good year. But I know I can do better,'' Ward said. "The goals were 25 feet in the long jump and 51 in the triple jump.
" I got 25 feet in New Mexico after the season and I went 50 feet 6 inches at the (Edwardsville) Winston Brown Invitational, so I'm right there. I'd just like to maybe become a little more consistent."
Since completing his sophomore season, Ward has been training a couple of times per week with Millsap and the Cahokia summer track program, traveling and sleeping.
"When I'm not training or competing. That's what I like to do. Sleep,'' Ward said laughing.
Ward is still in top form.
At the Great Southwestern Classic Invitational at the University of New Mexico in June, Ward went a career best of 25-6 1/2 in the long jump.
Last week at the USA Track and Field Junior Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Ore., he placed fifth in the triple jump with a leap of 50-0 was seventh in the long jump with an effort of 24-6.
Ward will also will be traveling to the Bahamas later this month to participate in the National Scholastic Athletic Federation's Project Triple jump camp.
The camp is designed for five days of intense training for the top high school triple jump athletes in the nation.
"It will be my first time out of the country, so I'm excited and really looking forward to it,'' Ward said. "It should be a great experience to train and compete with the best jumpers in the nation.''
Ward will begin another challenge in August, when he returns for his junior year at Cahokia and the college recruiting process begins.
The total package as far as a student-athlete, Ward will be recruited by the top NCAA Division I track programs in the nation.
"He'll have his choice,'' Millsap said. "Jamari is a great young man so I'm sure he and his family will handle the process well.
"Is he the best track athlete, I've coached? Yes. We're working with him right now in the hurdles just to give him some other events.''