Competing in the “city that never sleeps” and at a sports venue where the legends of track and field have put on memorable performances for decades, Cahokia High School junior Jamari Ward had one goal this weekend at the New Balance Track and Field Indoor Nationals in New York.
Ward, the reigning Illinois Class 2A state champion in the triple jump, put on a memorable performance at the famed New York City Armory.
Ranked as one of the top high school athletes in the nation in both the triple jump and long jump entering the exclusive competition, Ward captured titles in both – jumping career best distances of 25 feet 7 1/2 inches in the long jump and 51 feet 7 1/2 inches in the triple jump. Both are the best recorded in the nation this season.
“I just felt really good and strong. I had been here (New York City) for nationals last year and jumped 24 feet 6 inches,“ Ward said. “Honestly, my goal was just to jump further then I did a year ago. I did that and so it was a good weekend.”
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One of the top national indoor meets in the nation each year, the New Balance Track and Field Indoor Nationals featured many of the best 20 and under track and field athletes in the nation. The top 10 ranked in each event are invited, along with others who equal or surpass qualifying standards.
Cahokia track coach Leroy Millsap, who accompanied Ward to the meet, said 65 athletes competed in the long jump and more than 50 athletes were in the triple jump competition. Millsap said he knew Ward was due for a top performance.
“Jamari’s capable of jumping even further. I think he can go over 26 feet in the long jump and 52 feet in the triple this year,” Millsap said. “The differences in Jamari this year are that he’s faster and he’s grown probably 3 inches from last year. I bet he’s 6-foot-1 now. Plus he’s really hit the weight room and is much stronger.”
“Last year he was injured at the state meet and when he lost the state long jump title he told me he didn’t like losing and that he wasn’t going to lose any more. Since that time he hasn’t.”
Ward’s winning jump in the long jump at the New York City Armory, which has been home to the famed Millrose Games since the event moved from Madison Square Garden in 2012, came in his final attempt.
“I really didn’t think it was that long. I knew it was good, but I didn’t know how good until I heard the reaction of the crowd,” Ward said. “Was I nervous competing in a place like that (the Armory)? I’m always a little nervous but once I jump for the first time in a meet, I’m fine.
“It’s always fun to jump against the best.”
Ward has been training and competing since last summer. The Comanches All-American spent the summer competing in national meets throughout the nation, while training under Millsap, himself a former U.S. Olympic Team alternate in the triple jump.
Ward’s best effort of the summer came at a meet in New Mexico, where he jumped 24 feet 6 inches.
“It was a good summer. I had fun traveling and competing and we’ve really worked hard in the weight room. I’m a lot stronger then I’ve been in the past and I’m probably a little faster as well,” Ward said. “I’m ready and looking forward to having a great season.”
Millsap said Ward had an added bit of incentive heading into the triple jump final this weekend, though he didn’t need it.
“There was an athlete from West Virginia who I think finished second or third in the long jump and I think he told Jamari that he was going to beat him in the triple jump,” Millsap said. “So Jamari goes out and jumps 51-7 and wins it.”
When asked about what was said to him, Ward quickly dismissed it as nothing.
“He said something. I don’t remember what it was,” Ward said.
Ward will be back in action this weekend at the Eastern Illinois University Indoor Invitational in Charleston and then will compete at the Illinois State Indoors Meet in Normal the following week.
An excellent student, Ward is starting to receive interest from every NCAA Division I track and field power in the nation. Coaches cannot recruit student-athletes until after their junior seasons.
“I really haven’t thought about it that much yet. Academically, I have some options but I’m not sure what I want to study or where I want to go,” Ward said. “I’m just looking forward to having a good year.”