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Blackwellâ€™s Jayden Jones has made some big jumps since he took up pole vaulting as an eighth grader.
Not only is he the schoolâ€™s record holder in the event, but Jones will be defending his title at the Class 1A, Division II state track meet in Austinâ€™s Mike A. Myers Stadium on Saturday.
Jones, a senior, had a terrific 2013 debut when he soared 13 feet, 6 inches â€” nine inches higher than his nearest competitor â€” last year in his first appearance at the state meet. However, he exceeded that by clearing 13-9 at the regional meet in San Angelo to earn a second trip to Austin.
But as his high school career winds down, Jones is preparing for an even bigger leap. Next year he will be pole vaulting collegiately at the highest level â€” NCAA Division I â€” after signing a national letter of intent Tuesday with Abilene Christian University.
ACUâ€™s track program joined Division I this year after long being among the nationâ€™s best in Division II.
Jones â€” also an all-state running back and linebacker on Blackwellâ€™s football team that made the playoffs the past two years â€” said he became interested in pole vaulting in junior high and decided to try it after getting encouragement from his principal, Bryan Ship-man, and others.
â€śHe said I would be good at it. But I had to overcome the fear of being in the air,â€ť Jones said. â€śYou just have to keep working at it and being aggressive.
â€śThis (going to state again this weekend) is definitely the highlight for me.â€ť
Jones may have a tougher time winning at state this year since he was only third at regionals, though his 13-9 matched the height of Water Valleyâ€™s Seth Demere. He got in as a â€świld cardâ€ť qualifier by having the best third-place height among all athletes who competed in the stateâ€™s four regions.
Jonesâ€™ biggest challengers Saturday will likely be Demere and Eulaâ€™s Taylor Gill, who went 15-0 at the regional meet and has gone an area-best 16-0 1/4.
None of the other six Class 1A, Division II state vaulters qualified with jumps of higher than 12 feet.
â€śHonestly, if I do the best I can do (Saturday) Iâ€™ll be happy,â€ť said Jones, whose goal is 14-6 but thinks 12-6 or better will be enough to win a top-3 medal.
He said he might be even more nervous about going to Austin this year because itâ€™s his last time to compete at the high school level, but heâ€™s very excited about making the trip to the University of Texas campus. â€śThey have awesome facilities for jumping there,â€ť he said.