After a long, record-shattering, award-winning and sometimes painful season, Cahokia’s Ja’Mari Ward is taking a break.
At least from competition. After completing a junior year where he won the Class 2A state titles in the long jump and triple jump and was a major force on a Comanches squad that shattered its own IHSA state track meet record for points and won an unprecedented fifth straight championship, Ward is taking the rest of the summer off from jumping to allow his injured right ankle to fully mend.
“I really don’t like sitting around much. But this is what’s best. I’d rather take a break now and let the ankle completely heal then keep jumping and maybe causing some real damage. I want to be able to be at my best next year,“ Ward said. “What am I going to do? I’m going to start looking at colleges and maybe train a little bit.”
Ward’s recent travel schedule indicates a summer off is deserving. After breaking the state track meet record in the long jump with a leap of 25-feet-1/4-inch and breaking the Class 2A state meet record in the triple jump with a leap of 50-feet-6-inches, Ward competed at the Great Southwest Classic at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque where he won the long jump (25-feet-4-inches) and was second in the triple jump (50-feet-8-inches).
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His first trip out of the country — to Cuba — where he trained with and competed against some of the top high school age jumpers in the world for four days followed, He placed third with a leap of 24-feet-2-inches.
But now, with all the top college track coaches in the nation certain to be calling and/or making the trek to Cahokia beginning July 1 in an attempt to lure the Comanches senior-to-be for their programs, Ward is certain to keep busy.
Voted as the Belleville News-Democrat male track and field athlete of the year for the second straight season, Ward seems bound for greatness at both the collgiate and naional and international stage, something that Comanches coach Leroy Millsap has been saying for the past five years.
“I told Ja’Mari when he was in the seventh grade that he had what it took to be a future Olympian. What he’s been able to do since then makes me believe it even more,” Millsap said. “ What is more important is that he’s starting to see and believe that if he continues to progress the way he has, then he can get to the very top.
“He reminds me a little bit of Carl Lewis. He’s a student of the sport. He’s always working and trying to find ways to get better and stronger. But he’s also got three things which are tough to teach. Ja’Mari has great speed, he’s explosive and most of all, he hates to lose.”
Voted as the Illinois Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year for the second straight year by Gatorade and USA Today High School Sports, Ward enered his junior season with one state title each in both the long jump and triple jump — but also with a sore right ankle, an injury that first occured at the Class 2A state meet as a sophomore.
“It was really hurting me in March and I had to take some time off. That really bothered me because I wanted to be out with my teammates and competing,” Ward said. “I was able to compete after that and I did well. It was more like a nagging injury. That’s why taking time off now is good and so when I come back in the fall, I’ll be at full strength.”
Ward then took 10 days off from jumping — but still ran the relays — prior to the Triad Sectional where he and the Comanches would give a preview of things to come the following week at the state finals at O’Brien Stadium in Charleston.
But nobody could have anticipated what the Comanches did. Not even the Comanches.
Ward got things started in the Class 2A preliminaries on Friday when after having jumps of more than 23 and 24 feet in his first two long jump attempts — he shattered the state mark with his leap of 25-feet-1/4-inch to put the title away. Less then three hours later Ward all but wrapped up the triple jump with his leap of 50-feet-6-inches. Because preliminary jumps carry over to the finals, Ward’s effort meant that he would not have to jump Saturday.
That news was not good for any of eight teams hoping to have a prayer at winning the 400- or 800-meter relays on Saturday. With Ward, perhaps one of the top sprinters in the state, able to focus on just the relays, the Comanches looked unbeatable. And they were all day.
Cahokia, which set the state mark of 99 1/2 points in 2013, finished the state meet in May with 119 — 82 more then their closest competition.
“The plan was for me to have two big jumps and so I wouldn’t have to compete the second day in the jumps. That way I could put everything into the relays,” Ward said. “I wanted to win both jumps because I hadn’t done it before, but the main goal was to win the state championship as a team and break the points record.
“We knew we could do it. What was a surprise was the way we dominated the meet the second day. I mean to win all four relays, break all the records that we did and finish with 119 points, I don’t think any of us thought that would happen. We had a good day.”
More good days are sure to follow for Ward in his senior season in 2016. His goals are to go surpass 26 feet in the long jump and 53-54 feet in the triple jump next year. But as for this summer, it’s time to narrow down the college choices.
An honors student with a 3.67 GPA, Ward plans to take all five of his allowed college visits. Three will be to the universities of Illinois, Kentucky and Florida. He is undecided on the other two.
“Why those three schools? I like what they have to offer. Plus Illinois and Kentucky are close to home. I kind of want to stay pretty close to my family,” Ward said. “But we’ll see what happens. I’ll hopefully have a choice by by the time school starts in the fall.
As for his long range goals? Perhaps the United States Olympic Team in 2020.
“That’s the hope right now. I want to get my college degree first.”
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2661.
2015 Belleville News-Democrat All-Area Boys Track Team
Athlete of the Year
Ja’Mari Ward, Cahokia, jr.
Coaches of the Year
Chad Lakatos, Edwardsville; Leroy Millsap, Cahokia
Long Jump: Ja’Mari Ward, Cahokia, jr.; Fontez Davis, Edwardsville, sr.
High Jump: Anthony McRoberts, Cahokia, jr.
Triple Jump: Ja’Mari Ward, Cahokia, jr.
Pole Vault: Blake Laird, Wesclin, jr.
Discus: Ricky Nelson, Belleville West, sr. and AJ Epenesa, Edwardsville, soph.
Shot Put: Daniall Akins, Cahokia, sr.
100 Meters: Andre McGill, Madison, sr. and Keveion Akins, Cahokia, sr.
200 Meters: Andre McGill, Madison
400 Meters: Tyler Higgins, Highland, soph.
800 Meters: Wes Schoenthal, Edwardsville, sr.
1,600 Meters: Lance Mueller, Waterloo, sr.; Wes Schoenthal, Edwardsville, sr.
3,200 Meters: Brydon Groves-Scott, Edwardsville, sr.; Dorrian Gordon, O’Fallon
110 Meter Hurdles: William Session, Belleville East, jr.
300 Meter Hurdles: Korrion Session, Cahokia; William Session, Belleville East
400 Meter Relay: Cahokia (Marquis Murray, so.; Keveion Akins, sr.; Chrishawn Crosby, jr.; Jamari Ward, jr.)
800 Meter Relay: Cahokia (Marquis Murray, so.; Keveion Akins, sr.; Chrishawn Crosby, jr.; Jamari Ward, jr.)
1,600 Meter Relay: Cahokia (Chris Stanley, so.; Chris McGee, jr.; Marquis Murray so.; Tyran Lyons jr.); East St. Louis (Deonte Anderson, fr.; Roosevelt Davis, jr.; Kevin Johnson, jr.; Keonte Pearson, jr.)
3,200 Meter Relay: Cahokia (Chris Stanley, so.; Chris McGee, jr.; Chris Raymond, jr.; Tyran Lyons jr.)
Long Jump: Jaylen Bester, Althoff
High Jump: Seande Vinson, Cahokia
Triple Jump: Anthony McRoberts, Cahokia
Pole Vault: Mason Hewitt, O’Fallon
Discus: Harrison Wethers, Collinsville; Daniall Akins, Cahokia
Shot Put: Ricky Nelson, Belleville West; AJ Epenesa, Edwardsville
100 Meters: Adam Nelson, Triad; Justin Goff, Wesclin
200 Meters: Keveion Akins, Cahokia
400 Meters: Roosevelt Davis, East St. Louis; Demontez McCray, O’Fallon
800 Meters: Will O’Keefe, Granite City; Trevor White, Highland
1,600 Meters: Dorrian Gordon, O’Fallon
3,200 Meters: Erik McMillan, O’Fallon; Zain Pyarali, Edwardsville and Cole Rodenberg, Waterloo
110 Meter Hurdles: Travis Anderson, Edwardsville; Korrion Session, Cahokia
300 Meter Hurdles: Isaiah Michl, Edwardsville
400 Meter Relay: Triad, Highland, Belleville West, Edwardsville
800 Meter Relay: Edwardsville, Collinsville
1, 600 Meter Relay: Edwardsville
3,200 Meter Relay: Sparta, Highland; O’Fallon
Long Jump: Logan Geiger, Highland; Amron Cooper-Hodges, Collinsville; DeVonte Tincher, Edwardsville
High Jump: Justin White, Edwardsville; Bailey Crone, Collinsville; Shaun Rodgers, Sparta
Triple Jump: Jaylen Bester, Althoff; Luke Mathews, Mascoutah; James Smith, East St. Louis; Tariq Minor, Edwardsville; DeVonte Tincher, Edwardsville
Pole Vault: Joe Blumenstock, Nashville; Sam Griffin, Edwardsville
Discus: Will Monroe, Sparta; Mitchell Hooten, Red Bud; Kalen Samleton, Alton
Shot Put: Mitchell Hooten, Red Bud; Joe Hemann, Mater Dei; Desmond Chappel, Edwardsville; Harrison Wethers, Collinsville
100 Meters: Kaleb Simmons, Althoff; Deshon Buchanan, Belleville West; Tyler Higgins, Highland; Jeddah Gallego, Roxana; Romello Hatter, Belleville West; Romajian Smith, Belleville East; Demontez McCray, O’Fallon; Romello Hatter, Belleville West; Fontez Davis, Edwardsville
200 Meters: Justin Goff, Wesclin; Deshon Buchanan, Belleville West; Jason Robinson, Wesclin; Tyler Higgins, Highand; Adam Nelson, Triad; Demontez McCray, O’Fallon; Trevore Sanders, Collinsville
400 Meters: Tyran Lyons, Cahokia; Chris Stanley, Cahokia; Kaleb Simmons. Althoff; Gabe Silva, Lebanon; Jackson Pierce, Nashville; Deonte Anderson. East St. Louis; Tremain Streater, Collinsville
800 Meters: Nick Harper, Althoff; Dylan Huether, Sparta; Spencer Phillips, O’Fallon
1,600 Meters: Jacob Schwankhaus, Okawville; Brandon Schnitker, Nashville; Ben Flowers, Jerseyville; Cole Rodenberg, Waterloo; Tyler Manion, Granite City; Alex Mack, Freeburg
3,200 Meters: Alex Mack, Freeburg; Ben Flowers, Jerseyville; Jacob Schwankhaus, Okawville; Luke Goebel, Mater Dei
110 Meter Hurdles: Greysan Moehrs, Waterloo; Marquis Murray, Cahokia; Antonio Cozart, Dupo; Isaiah Michl, Edwardsville
300 Meter Hurdles: Delano Anderson, East St. Louis; Zachary Hammel-Brown, Collinsville; Keondre Wells, Cahokia; Ryan Mugele, Wesclin
400 Meter Relay: Wesclin, Madison, East St. Louis, Collinsville, Belleville East
800 Meter Relay: Dupo, Highland, Triad, East St. Louis, Belleville East, Belleville West
1,600 Meter Relay: Sparta, Highland, Triad
3,200 Meter Relay: Nashville, Freeburg, Waterloo, Granite City