WICHITA, Kan. –
On his second attempt in the Class 5A long jump competition, Emporia (Kan.)
senior Jerel Morrow
sprinted down the runway and heaved his 5-foot-11, 185-pound frame into the air. Morrow fell near the end of the sand, took a little bounce and landed on the grass beyond the pit.
One of the officials measuring the jumps didn't even hesitate. Instead of putting down the usual tape measure, he motioned for the steel tape used only for measuring state records.
Several officials helped record the jump: 25-0.25 feet. The wind reading was 2.1 mph, just above the legal limit of 2.0. Still, it marked the nation's longest jump this year in all weather conditions, according to Kansas track and field historian Carol Swenson.
Morrow received congratulations from fellow competitors and a loud ovation from the several thousand fans in attendance when the jump was announced Friday night at Wichita State University's Cessna Stadium.
"It felt great during the jump, so I knew that it was going to be good," Morrow said. "It just feels great. All the credit goes to my family and my coaches who got me here."
Emporia head coach Randy Wells tweeted: "Jerel best jump in nation best kid in nation as well."
"There is a lot of truth to that, because he is a wonderful person," jumps coach Phil Thornton, in his 35th year with the Spartans, said.
If the wind reading had been just 0.1 mph slower, Morrow would have broken the state mark of 24-11.75 set by Wichita South's Veryl Crawford in 1974 and bested the 5A record of 24-01.25 set by Liberal's Melvin Sanders in 1999. In addition, Morrow became the fourth Kansas athlete in state history to win the long jump three times.
"I trusted the Lord, and He got me here," Morrow said.
The leap completed a terrific three-sport year for Morrow, well-known for his athleticism, faith and quiet leadership. His record-breaking leap was one of several big jumps for the historically great, close-knit Emporia jumping program.
"He is the truth," Emporia senior J.L. Savage said. "He is a real good athlete. I have enjoyed jumping with him, because even when he has a bad meet, it's still really good, and it gives me incentive to jump farther and try to keep up with him. He is a very good kid. He is very humble, doesn't brag about anything. He is a three-time state champion, but you would never know unless someone else told you, but he would never say it. He is just a great teammate."
Morrow, a wide receiver/cornerback, helped Emporia finish 9-2 last fall on the football field and earned a Kansas Shrine Bowl honor. An Oklahoma State signee for football and possibly track, Morrow was also one of six finalists for the KPreps.com Dylan Meier Get Busy Livin' Player of the Year award.
The award, named in honor of former Kansas all-state quarterback Dylan Meier, who passed away at 26, combines excellence on the field with the GBL values of "adventure, fitness, curiosity, generosity and a daily zest for life experiences."
Morrow, who credited his family with raising him in a Christian household, belongs to St. James Missionary Baptist Church, is president of the Emporia High Strength and Power Club, has helped students with special needs and donated blood.
"He likes to have fun, but he really doesn't tolerate wrong things," Thornton said. "He is not much interested in doing bad things. He doesn't really tolerate it from other people. He is kind of the moral force of the team to be honest with you."
On his nomination form, Morrow wrote, "Everything in life, I will do to my highest potential. I need to do the best with my opportunities, because a lot of people don't have the opportunities that I have been blessed with."
Track-wise, Morrow has a great coach in Thornton and strong teammates, especially senior Oasis Hernandez, Savage and senior Bethany Bowman. Each jumper immediately credited Thornton for their success.
"I think that we have the best coach in the nation," Hernandez said. "… He loves us. He is like an uncle of the team, and we feel really close to him."
Like Morrow, Hernandez spoke of her faith as a guiding influence. Hernandez won four gold medals, including the long and triple jumps and jumped 40-7.75 in the triple, the third-longest jump in Kansas state history. In her triple jump career, Hernandez improved by more than 10 feet.
"I could do nothing without faith," Hernandez, who finished with six career golds, said. "I could do nothing without God."
Savage took fourth in triple jump and sixth in long jump, while Bowman was second in high jump. Morrow was also fifth in high jump.
"I would definitely say that we are really close," Bowman said. "We just come out here, and just expect to do great for each other. Jerel is just an awesome person. Any time you need help with something, he is there."
Morrow entered high school as a sprinter and high jumper. Halfway through his freshman year, he thought he would try the long jump. Emporia had some solid jumpers, and after a couple days, Morrow was already 6 to 7 inches away from the team's top jumper. He took fourth at state as a freshman at 22-0.75. As a sophomore, Morrow plateaued around 22 feet.
"All of a sudden, he gained confidence and started jumping 23s right and left," Thornton said.
Morrow won the state title with a 22-10.75 leap. Last spring, Morrow, jumping with a big wind, went 25-8.5 at the Emporia State regional. It marked the longest jump in Kansas history, regardless of weather or venue.
"I had no dream that he would even do something like that," Thornton said. "Wow."
Morrow, though, won state with a jump of 23-10.75. This year, he had one of the nation's top-10 jumps at 24-6.75 entering state.
His first leap of 23-10 would have easily won the competition. However, Morrow left another lasting impression with his second jump, a leap that was still buzzing through the stadium when state concluded Saturday night.
"He responds to the environment," Thornton said. "He loves a crowd, and he was really excited to jump, and he was fresh, rested and he knew from practice the day before that he was on, so he had a lot of confidence. And all of that came to fruition."Conor Nicholl is a sports reporter for the Hays (Kan.) Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.