May 18, 2013 in Washington Voices

New career takes off

Dunking hobby helps U-Hi senior standout in high jump event
Steve Christilaw wurdsmith2002@msn.com
 
PHOTOS BY DAN PELLE photo

University High School senior Eddie Gonzalez attempts a 6-foot, 5-inch height in the high jump during track and field practice under the watchful eye of his coach, Liz Wardsworth, on Thursday in Spokane Valley.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Liz Wardsworth remembers the first time she met Eddie Gonzalez.

“It was our first practice last year,” the University High track coach recalled. “It was still snowy out and we were meeting inside. He was wearing a University of Oregon shirt.”

The head girls coach didn’t recognize the slim, quiet Gonzalez, so she tried to strike up a conversation. Are you new? Yes. Are you from Oregon? Yes. Are you turning out for track? Yes.

“I asked him what event he did,” Wardsworth recalled, and for the first time got more than a one-word response. “He said ‘high jump.’ So I said ‘Nice to meet you, I’m your position coach.’ ”

Then a junior, Gonzalez never had turned out for track before, but he did have a hobby that lent itself to the event.

“I’ve been part of a dunk team since I was in the eighth grade,” Gonzalez said. “I still am – I have YouTube videos online of me dunking. On a good jump, I can get my head above the rim.”

For that first week or so of his track career, Wardsworth couldn’t remember Gonzalez’s name, so she called him “Oregon.” But it didn’t take long for Oregon to make certain everyone in his event knew his name. In his first varsity meet, the Eisenhower Jamboree in Yakima, he cleared 6-feet-3, and by the Greater Spokane League district meet, he cleared 6-6.

He cleared 6-6 again at the state Class 3A meet, but so did three other jumpers.

“They started adding up misses,” he recalled. “I didn’t realize I’d won until they finished and announced it.”

Gonzalez said he didn’t do anything high jump related over his summer and managed to pick up his first bad habit.

“Dunking a basketball is and isn’t a big help for his high jumping,” the coach explained. “When he goes straight up and dunks a basketball, that’s great training for the high jump. When he takes off from the free throw line to dunk, it turns into a long jump.”

“I was taking off way too soon for a while,” Gonzalez admitted. “I can get away with that and still clear 6-4. But to go higher than that, I needed to get under the bar and go up instead of out.”

With his take-off point back under control, Gonzalez started his senior season by upping the ante from his previous personal record, clearing a meet-record 6-8 at the Eisenhower Jamboree, then improved on that mark by a full inch at the Ray Cockrum Relays in Wenatchee less than two weeks later.

“I’ve been pretty consistent clearing 6-8 all year,” Gonzalez said.

And then, on April 25 in a GSL meet with Central Valley and Rogers at U-Hi, Gonzalez improved his PR to 6-10 – a mark that was not only the best in the state this season, it vaulted him into Top 10 nationally.

When you’ve been a high jumper for just over a year and are already nationally ranked, it gets the attention of college track coaches. But Gonzalez insists that it’s, maybe, 50-50 whether he’ll jump in college.

“If I do, I’ll probably go somewhere like Spokane Falls and work on it there,” he said. “It’s going to be a year-round thing in college. It would be interesting to see how high I can go.”

The same can be said for the rest of Gonzalez’s high school career.

He’s cleared 6-8 at the three meets since he set his PR, and needs only to clear 6-5 today to guarantee himself a spot in next week’s state meet. But he’s definitely thinking about going even higher.

“My goal is to clear 7 feet before I’m done here,” he said. “I can see myself taking a shot at it at the state meet.”

The state Class 3A meet high jump record is 7-feet- 1/4-inch, set in 1979. The overall state record was set by Rick Noji of Franklin High in 1984: 7-4 1/2.

Oddly enough, Gonzalez isn’t the No. 1 seed from the GSL when the Class 3A regional meet’s high jump competition begins today at Spokane Falls Community College. That honor goes to teammate Andrew Morgan, who also cleared 6-8 last week and took first place on few misses.

“It was great for Andrew because he’s been battling injuries all season long and he finally popped a great jump.”

Still, it’s the guy with 6-10 in his pocket that everyone will be watching.

“I can hear people talking about me,” Gonzalez said of his status. “It’s interesting, but I try to just stay focused on what I have to do, on my own jump.”

Gonzalez doesn’t let his feelings show, but Wardsworth said she can tell that her jumper is pleased with the recognition.

“I can see how much it means to him, but that’s only because I’ve been working with him so closely now for two seasons,” she said. “He keeps it all inside.”

Then she smiles and her eyes twinkle.

“You know, Eddie would be a very good poker player,” she laughs. “He has a great poker face.”

 

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