North Gwinnett’s Devante’ Kershaw competes in the Class AAAAAA Triple Jump during Thursday’s Track & Field State Championship Meet at Jefferson Memorial Stadium. (Photo: Kyle Hess)
JEFFERSON — Devin Valentine owns the perfect hat to wear to the Georgia boys state track and field meet.
Well now, he owns three.
Calling it a small bit of “intimidation” the Lanier senior wore his 2013 state champion hat before and after he competed in his signature triple jump event this year. A two-time winner already, the hat didn’t cause Valentine’s early trouble, it was his shoes. He modified his worn track shoes with new soles prior to the meet and scratched in an early jump and limped into the finals against as tough a field as the Louisville-bound Valentine has seen with a jump of 47 feet, 4.25 inches.
“It was really rough,” Valentine said.
He removed the soles for the finals and turned in final jumps of 48-08 and 48-09, an inch away from his best jump, but far enough for his third straight state title in the triple jump, this year in Class AAAA. On the victory podium, he swapped his faded white 2013 white hat for a crisp 2014 red version.
“It’s humbling every time,” Valentine said. “This year, I knew there was tough competition. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.”
Valentine bested the runner up Chris McBride of Redan by less than nine inches. Teammate and classmate Simon Shafack finished fifth with a best jump of 45-07.5.
“They made me work for it,” Valentine said, “which hasn’t happened in a long time.”
Relief, victory by an ankle
Bailey Vitatoe sat with the perfect angle to see the high jump bar.
The Brookwood senior had just missed his third and final attempt at besting seven feet and, along with North Gwinnett’s John Paul Harley, watched Newnan’s Joshua Hill make his last past.
“I had the perfect angle, I saw his shoulder get over and then his butt, that’s the hardest thing to get over, I was hitting it with my butt all day,” Vitatoe said. “Then his ankle hit (the bar).”
Hill’s miss sent the championship to previous misses and with just two in the competition, Vitatoe claimed his first state title in the last event of his high school career.
“This was my goal all year,” Vitatoe said just following the announcement by the official.
Once the event reached 6 feet, 10 inches, there were just three remaining, adding intensity to the championship.
They all hit the height on their third try.
For Harley it was a personal best and he celebrated accordingly.
“I couldn’t believe I got over it,” said Harley, who finished third. “I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited high jumping.”
Vitatoe was more reserved, at least in the moment, but promised he was thrilled.
“I don’t know why I didn’t (act excited),” he said. “I’m definitely excited.”
Patterson survives slight trepidation
John Patterson thought, perhaps, nerves played a role in his first few throws.
The Parkview senior, headed to Wofford to play football next season, tossed his first two discus attempts less than 160 feet, well below the expectations.
“It was a little bit of nerves,” Patterson said.
Patterson, a two-time state placer in discus, was runner-up a year ago at the state meet.
The success set his sites higher this year.
Patterson reached the finals and, sufficiently calm, unleashed a throw of 175-01, breaking his own school record and winning the Class AAAAAA discus state title by more than five feet.
“I am going to college to play football, I thought this is my last opportunity with track,” Patterson said. “I wanted to end on a good note.”
Not only did Patterson win and set a new personal mark in the discus, earlier in the day he finished fifth in the shot put with another personal best throw of 53-07.25.
“That showed a little want-to,” he said. “I knew time was dwindling down to put it all together.”
Bigger hurdles ahead for Shiloh’s McDuffie
Shiloh’s Jeremy McDuffie didn’t spent much time practicing his triple jump this past week.
Actually, he admitted, he didn’t practice it at all.
Unlike last year, where McDuffie jumped in two separate events and ran one hurdles race, this year he plans to race in both hurdles and decided to just focus on the triple jump.
Without practicing, the focus was relying on muscle memory and past practice.
It didn’t get him a personal best, but it did win him a state title.
With a jump of 49 feet, McDuffie won by nearly a foot over Lovejoy’s Preston Williams and was also head of North Gwinnett’s Devante’ Kershaw, who finished fifth.
But with the jump over, McDuffie left Jefferson on Thursday hoping to live up to his top billing in both the 110 and 300 hurdles.
“Now I can just focus on the hurdles and get what I can get,” McDuffie said.
Buford’s Picou sees height of competition
During one of the day’s most impressive displays, Buford’s Dequavious Picou watched from up close.
The Buford junior was in the same Class AAA discus final flight as St. Pius X’s Daniel Haugh while the eventual champion threw well past all of his competition.
Picou didn’t set a new personal best, but finished seventh in the event with a throw of 133-07, 61 feet shy of Haugh.
“It just shows you there is room for improvement,” Picou said. “Lot’s of improvement.
“You just have to be yourself. You can’t be anyone else. You just have fun.”
Picou also competed in the shot put, coming short of placing, but near his goal distance.
“I felt good today,” he said. “It was a good day.”