After a rare summer of leisure to let his sore ankles rest and heal, Cahokia’s Ja’Mari Ward said Tuesday he is ready to get back to work.
The nation’s top-ranked high school combination athlete in the long jump and triple jump, Ward said that he plans to run on the Cahokia High Schoool cross country team this fall and hopes to have a college decision made by Jaunary before beginning preseason workouts for what could be a record-shattering senior track and field season next spring.
With every NCAA Division I track and field power in the nation heavily recruiting the 5-foot-11, 160-pound Ward has narrowed his colleges choices down to four schools — Texas A & M, Florida, Kentucky and Alabama. The school are all members of the Southeastern Conference.
But after taking a few laps around the school track recently, Ward said he felt a little out of shape.
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“First of all my ankle is fine. No pain. I may look like I’m in shape, but after running a few laps, I can say that I’m not,” Ward said. “This summer has been different for me because I’m so used to competing all year long. It’s been different. I’ve had some fun, gone to some places like Six Flags and Raging Rivers a couple of times each. I think my mom and dad are getting a little tired of seeing me not do that much. They would like me to get out a little more, but there just isn’t that much to do.”
A two-time Gatorade Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year in Illinois, Ward’s summer break was well deserved after leading the Comanches to a fifth straight Class 2A state title in Charleston in May.
Ward broke the state record in the long jump with a leap of 25 feet, 1/4 inch and won the triple jump with a mark of 50-6. He anchored the 400-meter relay quartet to a victory in 41.12 seconds and ran the second leg on the 800 relay, which won in 1:25.83. Both relays were both state records.
Ward’s season-best triple jump of 51-11 ranked as the nation’s No. 1 performance among prep competitors in 2015 at the time of his selection, while his top long jump of 25-6 1/2 ranked No. 2.
At the conclusion of the state meet, Ward said he hoped to have his college decision made by the start of school in August. But after listening to numerous college coaches try and sell the virtues of their programs, Ward has decided to think long and hard about where he wants to spend the next four years of his life.
“I just want to make sure the place I eventually choose is the one that is right and where I can get a great education and that is best for my future. The reason I chose these final four was that I like the schools, the coaches and the tradition of their track and field programs. No matter what these are four great schools I have to choose from. I plan on making my visits in the fall. After that I’ll sit down with my family and coach and discuss it. I’m thinking by January.’’
One of the schools which did not make the final four was the University of Houston where the legendary long jumper Carl Lewis is an assistant coach. Cahokia coach Leroy Millsap said Lewis had contacted him several times in the last month in attempt to recruit Ward.
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2661.