RIMERSBURG — Just give him a nice and healthy day for jumping.
That would work perfectly for PIAA high jump champion Hayden Smith, who heads into his junior year at Union Area High School this fall.
But first things first. He’s competing at the AAU Junior Olympic Games in Greensburg, N.C., next. While the Games are scheduled to run from Sunday through Aug. 6, Smith jumps next Wednesday at North Carolina A&T University.
Smith competes in the 17-and-18-year-old division and, using qualifying jumps from regional meets, Smith is seeded No. 1 with his 6 feet, 10 inches he cleared at the AAU Region 4 Qualifier held in Charleston, W.V., on June 4.
He’s among 83 jumpers in the event. Among the top 25 jumpers seeded in the event, he’s one of just two Pennsylvania natives in the field.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about what height to come in at, because it is the big dogs down there. They know what they’re doing,” Smith said Monday night. “It’s going to be really challenging and I’m also really excited to see what I’m going to do against (national) competition. It’s a huge deal and I’m just preparing myself for it.”
Smith leaves Saturday looking to continue quite a calendar year for him as he cleared 6 feet, 5 inches to win the PIAA Class 2A title back in late May in Shippensburg. He knew he could get higher and did in Charleston.
He’s hoping for a 7-footer and has been working on his steps, adjusting to where he feels he needs to be if he intends on getting that high at nationals.
“I go over to the track two, three times per week. I don’t really jump, but I do go over my steps and I’ve adjusted my steps to get me more momentum to get over the bar at 7 feet. So I’m trying to get faster over the bar,” Smith said. “I’ve been jumping a little bit, but not really that much. I’ve been doing a lot of run-throughs because it was kind of hard to get my steps back to how I was used to feeling with my old steps.”
He wouldn’t complain if things go a little smoother on event day. At PIAA states, rain forced the event indoors and then he had to borrow shoes he could use on the indoor surface.
Then in West Virginia, he fought stomach sickness and gutted through his regional win.
“It was rough (at Charleston),” Smith said. “I woke up and felt like crap and went back to sleep for another two hours. It’s tough, but you have to make what you can make it, even if it’s in terrible conditions or if you feel terrible. You have to try it. You have to keep rolling.”
Smith did have a shoe issue again, a pair breaking, but he was able to order and get a new pair before heading south.
Smith said that he plans to work in the offseason jumping at the indoor facilities at Slippery Rock and Butler.