PIAA track and field: Chambersburg freshman wins state title with stunning jump
Bob Walker made sure his phone was ready.
He was that confident J.J. Kelly would give him something worth remembering on his final jump of the PIAA track and field championships.
"I sensed something special was about to happen," the Chambersburg track and field coach said. "Because he's a special athlete."
Sure enough, Kelly delivered a special moment.
During a Friday morning with some record-breaking distance running performances, Kelly nearly stole the show at Shippensburg University with a stunning performance in the Class 3A triple jump. The freshman leaped 48 feet and one inch on his final jump to win the gold medal.
He set a new personal record and broke the 51-year-old school record he initially topped last week at the District 3 championships. Kelly entered the meet seeded third with a mark of 47 feet even. The top seed, Hazleton's Matthew Cusatis, was seeded at 47-11.5 and reached 47-10.25, but had to settle for silver.
It was clear Kelly would be the winner the moment the judge called out his distance. His family and coaches joyously hugged in the sands as Kelly jumped around pumping his fist in celebration before shaking hands with his older counterparts.
"There's a lot of emotion," Kelly said. "I feel like a new person. My mom got to watch me and I wanted to make her proud.
"When I saw 47-11.5 as the one kid's PR, I was like, 'Anything is possible if I push myself.' I knew I was capable of it and my coaches knew I capable of it and my mom knew I was capable of it. I just had to come out and show everyone I was capable."
Kelly said he's used to people jokingly asking to see his birth certificate. Standing 6-foot-4 with a muscular build and a slight mustache, he looks much older than a 15-year-old freshman.
And while Walker described him as "even-keeled," Kelly carried himself Friday with an almost easy-going confidence ― smiling and chatting with his fellow competitors throughout the competition.
"When people look at me they don't think I'm a freshman," Kelly said. "When I let them know they're like, 'Bro, you're crazy for what you do.' Everybody hypes me up and is cool with me. I just tell them I appreciate it. I've been like that since I was a kid. I'l go up to anybody and have a conversation."
That confidence has helped Kelly excel in an event he never competed in until midway through this season.
A football and basketball star, Kelly wanted to start competing in track in middle school but didn't due to COVID cancelations and AAU basketball commitments last season. Still, there was no doubt he would add another sport this spring. Walker runs the clock at Chambersburg basketball games and said Kelly approached him to tell him he would be jumping.
Even with his athleticism, Kelly said there was still a process to learning the technique that goes into the triple jump. However, Walker thinks his star athlete is being modest about how quickly he was able to master the event.
The coach initially tried to bring Kelly along slowly, until the freshman explained something about himself.
"He told me: 'Coach, I'm different,'" Walker said. "He's right, he is different. He goes to the next level must faster than anybody else, as evidenced by today.
"He's a book-ender. He tends to hit his best jump in the first one of the trials and then the last jump of the finals. Between he's OK, but he gets hyped for the first and last. He likes the rhythmic clapping and that provides him energy and hype. He's a finisher and such a competitor."
Sometimes Kelly has to keep that confidence and competitiveness in check. He dealt with a sprained ankle early this season and has been battling hip tendonitis and a sore achilles lately. He missed the Mid-Penn championships due to the achilles.
He said dealing with the injuries is just a matter of proper technique and a strong mindset.
"I've played through broken wrists and ankles," he said matter-of-factly. "I'll fight through anything to get up on the podium."
Walker explained the process is a bit more delicate.
"Sometimes we argue," Walker said. "I limit his jumps in the dual meets. He doesn't like that, but he's respectful."
Walker will have to keep that sense of balance throughout his high school sports career. He plans to keep playing three sports and will have to juggle commitments this summer. He has an AAU basketball tournament Saturday but will be also competing in an upcoming national track tournament for freshmen.
For now, Kelly is going to enjoy a nap and maybe a bacon cheeseburger from Burger King before he worries about the future. Still, he has big goals. His wants to play college basketball but he's open to opportunities in track and field.
And he has plenty of motivation as a jumper. Former Chambersburg girls' track athlete Marshay Ryan won five state titles in the jumps (three in the long, two in the triple) before accepting a scholarship to Auburn. She's already helped train Kelly.
"He is aspiring to be like Marshay," Walker said. "She told him: 'You better get one as a freshman if you want to catch me.'
"Again, he's a special athlete."
Central football star has breakout throwing performance
As Danny Pham put it, it’s been “one of my best weeks.”
The Central York football lineman earned his first Division I offer from St. Francis on Tuesday. Now he's a PIAA track and field medalist.
The junior took sixth in the Class 3A shot put with a throw of 52 feet, 5.5 inches. But it was a stunning performance for a thrower who entered the meet seeded 17th with a season-best mark of 48-7.
"I didn't think I would be in the finals," Pham said with a quick laugh. "Just a lot of good work this week. I did have a feeling (entering today).
When I threw it, I thought: 'I got it.'"
This was Pham's first appearance at the state championships. He started track as an eighth-grader but his freshman season was canceled due to COVID, and he was still learning the sport last year.
He said his dedication to track has helped him as a football player.
Annville-Cleona junior earns high jump medal
Noah Gunderson is using it as motivation for next season.
The Annville-Cleona junior entered the Class 2A boys' high jump ranked second with a mark of six feet, six inches ― the same mark as the top seed. But he was unable to clear the bar at 6-03 and had to settle for fifth place with a high jump of 6-02.
Union's Hayden Smith won gold with a mark of 6-05.
The event was moved inside due to the early morning rain, which Gunderson said might've thrown him off.
He said he hopes to clear 6-10 next season.
"I feel like I could've done much better," he said. "I still felt good. I just gotta jump better next time. I'm just ready next year's districts and states and to try and get better."
A torrential downpour caused a long delay in the early afternoon, but distance runners and field athletes had mostly dry conditions in the morning.
Archbishop Wood runner Gary Martin captivated the crowd with a PIAA-record performance in the Class 3A 1,600-meter run. Weeks after he earned nation attention for running a sub-four-minute mile, Martin won gold with a time of 4:01.56.
Greencastle-Antrim's Weber Long was seeded third in the event but finished 15th with a time of 4:18.37.
In the 100-meter preliminaries, Spring Grove sophomore Laila Campbell cruised past the field in 11.65 seconds. The PIAA record is 11.64.
Campbell will try to win states titles in the 100 and 200 for the second straight year Saturday.
Matt Allibone is a sports reporter for GameTimePA. He can be reached at 717-881-8221, email@example.com or on Twitter at @bad2theallibone.