Brooks, Wilkins must sky ‘higher’ to win at state meet

Brooks, Wilkins must sky ‘higher’ to win at state meet
If either Union City’s Nik Brooks or Tony Wilkins is to claim the TSSAA state championship in the high jump competition Friday, they might have to soar to a new height.
The UC duo, both of whom were members of the Tornadoes’ 37-0 state champion basketball team, are set to compete for that state high jump crown against eight other competitors Friday at 11 a.m. in Murfreesboro.
And in order for either to wear that conveted headgear, it will take a victory over more experienced competition at the Class A-AA State Track Meet on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University.
“Tony and Nik lack track experience. But what they lack in the sport itself, they more than make up for with their experience of competing at the state level in basketball and winning two state titles,” first-year Twister track coach Darren Bowling said. “We all know there are more experienced opponents, but that has been the case all year.
“And I fully expect them to perform to their highest abilities for me this one last time.”
When speaking of more experienced opposition, Austin-East junior David Strong, who cleared 6’7” at the East Sectional meet to earn his berth into the state event, comes to mind.
The 5-foot-10 Strong, who defeated his opposition in the high jump at sectionals by a full seven inches and has participated in track since his middle school years, is the odds-on favorite to claim the state championship.
And according to his track coach, former All-American Tennessee sprinter Heather Sumpter-Blakemore, he can consistently jump at the aforementioned mark.
“Once David gets going and he’s warmed up, he can jump at that mark pretty consistently,” Blakemore told The Messenger.
However, Bowling — himself a seven-time state high school track champion in Mississippi and a two-time coach of a state champion track team — is not concerned with the feats of his tandem’s competition. He doesn’t think Brooks and Wilkins should be either.
“If he (Strong) clears that mark again, that would be tough to beat. But we’re not really focusing, nor are we going to be intimidated by that,” Bowling said. “As a coach, I’ve always tried to help my athletes understand that there is nothing to be afraid of and, usually, once they realize that, they have a better chance of winning at a high level of competition.
“It would be difficult for Nik or Tony to achieve that height within a week, but we’re focusing on our goals and, if we can improve on what got us up there and he falls short of what got him there, we’ll be right there in the hunt.”
Otherwise, Trezevant’s Corrille Jones and Mitchell’s Kenyon Torry are each making their second appearances at the high jump state final to highlight the field of more experienced competition that Wilkins and Brooks will have to contend with.
“Again, experience comes into play for us, but we’ve worked really hard with these two athletes to get them this far,” Bowling said. “Considering that neither had a lot of organized track experience, it is admirable for them both to earn a shot to compete with and defeat some athletes whose primary focus is track.”
Brooks, a senior who joined the Twister track team a month ago, made his best height ever (6’2”) at the West Sectional last Friday in Memphis to gain second place, and Wilkins kept consistent with a six-foot clearance to advance in the same event.
The two athletes have been hard at work with their coach this week in an effort to add an inch or two to each’s best jump.
Should Brooks clear the mark that he did at the West Sectional, it could land him as high as second place when compared to the best jumps of the rest of the 10-man field.
After Strong, the field’s best jump is a dead heat with Brooks tied with Ripley’s Jeremy Hurdle, the West Sectional champion, and Torry.
All three of those athletes reached the 6-2 plateau in Memphis last Friday. Hurdle was declared the West Sectional winner due to his clearing the mark on his first attempt at Fairgrounds Stadium, while Brooks made the jump on his second try and Torry made it over the bar on his third leap.
Furthermore, if Wilkins or Brooks can claim one of the top three spots, it would be the first time a Union City performer has stood among the top three on the podium since 2004, when Jermaine Thrash brought home third place from the 300-meter hurdles in running action.
“Aside from winning, I hope our younger athletes take note of the efforts of Nik and Tony,” Bowling concluded. “If these two competitors can make it this far in one year, then I hope it inspires us in the future to see that it is not impossible to get to state.
“And maybe with a little luck and a lot of hard work, we can work our way into a position where we can one day bring home the gold trophy as a team.”
Sports reporter Kenneth Coker can be contacted by e-mail at kcoker@ucmessenger.com.

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