Hawks’ Parker taking fast track to success

Jamal Parker

FRONT ROYAL – Skyline senior Jamal Parker initially scoffed at the idea of joining the Hawks’ track and field team when classmate and friend Josh Smeltzer floated the idea to him prior to last season.

Parker, who already committed plenty of his time to the football field and the basketball court for Skyline, simply couldn’t imagine competing in a sport with such a heavy emphasis on running.

“The thing I’d always say to him is running is the punishment for other sports, so why would I join a sport that’s just running?” Parker said Tuesday of his past conversations with Smeltzer. “But I’d say he helped me make a better decision.”

Parker ended up joining the Hawks’ track team last spring. A year later, he’s a two-time regional champion.

At last Wednesday’s Region 3A East championships at Culpeper County High School, Parker won both the boys long jump and triple jump. He also added a second-place finish in the 100-meter dash, ran the second leg of the Hawks’ state-qualifying 4×100 relay team and set two personal records along the way, setting himself up nicely for the Group 3A state meet this weekend in Harrisonburg.

For his efforts, Parker has netted himself the Northern Virginia Daily’s Male Athlete of the Week honor for May 24-30.

“I was excited because I remember last year at regionals I didn’t come away with any medals that weren’t bronze, so I wanted to be able to make my impression and have a high seeding at states, which I think I was able to do,” Parker said. “I don’t think I’m [ranked] under five in any of my events. Hopefully if I can transfer the marks and times I got from last week to this week maybe I can be all-state in a couple things.”

Parker was quick to set new personal records at the regional meet, doing so in his first two events of the day. He ran the 100-meter dash in a blistering 10.99 seconds — just two one-hundredths of a second behind Culpeper’s Elijah Morton — and won the long jump with leap of 22 feet, 10½ inches, nearly a foot further than his previous best.

Parker said his winning jump — which he nearly duplicated multiple times in his subsequent jumps — came after Culpeper’s Anfernee Pendelton matched Parker’s previous career best jump of 21 feet, 11 inches.

“I’ve never jumped that far and it just happened. It happened two or three times,” Parker said. “I think it was because of the other kid, when he flew. That probably did it for me.”

Skyline coach Steve Burton agreed that it was Parker’s competitiveness that fueled the senior last week, although Burton said some interactions between coach and athlete evoked some of that from Parker.

“He seemed to thrive on some criticism,” Burton said. “There were times where I had to tell him that tough love of you didn’t even get your mark, you didn’t do this, you didn’t do that. That motivated him a little bit and then he wanted to brag, so [he said], ‘See coach, I had 22-10, how about that?’ Then he flexed for me.”

Parker closed his day with a win in the triple jump (42 feet, 4 inches) after opting to scratch from the 200-meter dash, an event he was the top seed in after previously running a state-qualifying time of 22.22 seconds.

He will compete in all five of his qualified events at the Group 3A state championships.

Parker said his rise from a pair of six-place regional finishes in the long jump and 100-meter dash a year ago is the result of an improved mentality and work ethic.

“Last year was my first year running track and I only did it because a friend talked me into it. So I probably wasn’t taking it as seriously as I should have,” he said. “But then once I realized that this is something that I can actually do something in, I come down here and I admittedly work a lot harder and stay a lot longer after practice.”

Parker credited his speed and long strides for much of his track and field exploits, but Burton said it’s the senior’s intangible attributes that make him so successful.

“I think it is his intelligence,” Burton said of Parker, a Virginia Governor’s School attendee who plans to study at the University of Virginia this fall. “He understands the little games within a game of knowing where to start and how to get through each of the stages in his running events, understanding what he’s got to do.”

Parker even found a way around the dilemma he was facing this weekend — Skyline’s seniors will graduate this Saturday, the same day Parker will be competing at the state meet. Refusing to miss a shot at all-state recognition, Parker will have his own personal graduation Thursday during Skyline’s athletic banquet.

“I’ll have kind of a captive audience. People there to see their kids and all the sudden I’m walking across the stage,” Parker said with a grin.

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com