During his senior year at Blue Springs, Darius Clark had an accident that would have derailed his trip to the 2017 Missouri State High School Track and Field Championships.
During the Class 5 Sectional 4 meet, Clark was on his penultimate attempt during the long jump event. As he raced down the runway he slipped and ended up tweaking his hip. He felt a sharp pain in his hip all the way until state, but he decided to compete anyway.
He finished seventh in the high jump, eighth in the long jump and sixth in the triple jump at state. He wasn’t able to capture that elusive state championship.
But fast forward one year later after gutting it out at state and the now-college freshman became a champion. Clark, who is a jumper at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas, won the National Junior College Athletic Association Outdoor Champions long jump on May 17, with a distance of 25 feet, 7 1/4 inches, beating out the second-place finisher by 1 3/4 inches.
At first, winning a national championship didn’t really his Clark until a few days later when he started getting calls from NCAA Division one schools.
“I didn’t even know I broke the school record until my coach told me later that afternoon,” Clark said. “When Houston (University) called, that’s when I knew the jump was big.
“At first, I was aiming to get in the top three because the guy who was in second had a PR of 26-7, so I was expecting him to get first. I just had a better day in the long jump.”
The jump was a big improvement from his long jump at the NJCAA Indoor Championships, in which he finished ninth with a jump of 22 feet, 11.98 inches.
He credits that improved distance to a new technique that he’s been using with his leaps.
“I’ve been working on the hang technique,” Clark said. “I am starting to get the hang of it. There’s two different types of techniques – the hitch kick and the hang. I like the hang better because it looks better.
“When I was at the Indoor (Championships), I was still working on changing my technique to the hang. It wasn’t really there yet. I continued to work on it and got better with a little more practice.”
Clark also been competed in the triple jump, where he finished ninth at the Outdoor Championships with a jump of 48 feet, 9 1/2 inches.
“I wasn’t really disappointed because there were a lot of good triple jumpers that day,” Clark said. “It’s kind of a bonus event for me.”
But it will be that long jump distance at the Outdoor Championships that could lead him to transfer to a Division I college after his sophomore year. His dream school is the University of Southern California. But he has received interest from Oregon, Houston, Mississippi State, Florida State and Kansas.
“They told me congratulations on the jump,” Clark said. “And they let me know that I am on their radar.”
In the meantime, Clark will compete in the long jump in the USATF Junior Outdoor Championships, June 15-17 at Indiana University. He automatically qualified for the event because of his long jump at the national junior college meet.
“I’ve been going to Blue Springs to work out with Coach James Peister; he wanted to be my coach for Junior Nationals,” Clark said. “He congratulated me on winning the long jump, then told me the training plan for Junior Nationals.”