Sports

Ja’Mari Ward wins long jump at USA Track and Field Junior Outdoor Nationals

Cahokia’s Ja’Mari Ward runs the anchor spot in the 4x100 relay race for the Comanches. Ward won his first national title Friday with a career-best long-jump mark of 25 feet, 8 3/4 inches.
Cahokia’s Ja’Mari Ward runs the anchor spot in the 4x100 relay race for the Comanches. Ward won his first national title Friday with a career-best long-jump mark of 25 feet, 8 3/4 inches. tvizer@bnd.com

One month after his senior season at Cahokia High School came to a crashing halt with a dislocated knee, Ja’Mari Ward is back on top of the track-and-field world.

Competing in the men’s long jump at the USA Track and Field Junior Outdoor Nationals on Friday, Ward showed the form which has made him one of the elite track-and-field athletes in the nation as he won the championship with a career best jump of 25 feet, 8 3/4 inches.

The 2016 USA Track and Field Junior Nationals are being held at Veterans Memorial Stadium at Buchanan High School in Clovis, Calif.

Ward is headed to the University of Missouri beginning in August, where he will compete in the elite Southeastern Conference. Ward is Cahokia’s second national champion and its first since Kali Jackson won the triple jump championship in 2006.

The win also earns Ward a trip to the World Junior Championships in Poland later this summer where he will represent the United States.

Cahokia High School coach Leroy Millsap watched as Ward returned to form by out-jumping 23 of the top young athletes in the nation in the long jump.

“I am very proud of him. Ja’Mari worked very hard to make a comeback after the injury,’’ Millsap said. “He proved all the people who doubted him wrong. Cahokia is a great place to be.’’

Ward is scheduled to compete in the triple jump on Saturday.

Back in action

A two-time Gatorade Illinois Boys Track & Field Athlete of the Year, Ward competed Friday in a national meet for the first time since suffering a dislocated left kneecap at the Collinsville Invitational in late May.

While no structural damage was done to the knee, the injury forced Ward to miss the remaining three weeks of his high school career. A two-time Class 2A state champion in the long jump and triple jump, Ward did not compete at the IHSA Class 2A State Track Meet when the Comanches captured their sixth-straight Class 2A team title.

Setting the standard

One of the state’s best combination athletes in the long jump and triple jump from the time he first started at Cahokia High School, Ward became one of the nation’s best high-school-track-and-field athletes during his junior and senior years.

Ward was the Class 2A indoors state champion in the 100- and 200-meter dashes, along with winning the long jump and triple jump titles, but he raised the bar even further this past April when he broke national and state records in the long jump and triple jump at the St. Clair County Track Meet.

Ward broke the National Federation of State High School Association’s national record in the triple jump with an effort 53 feet, 7 1/2 inches. He also broke the state record in the long jump with an effort of 25 feet, 6 3/4 inches. Ward also won the 100- and 200-meter championships in the meet.

Dean Criddle: 618-239-2661, @CriddleDean

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