By Christopher Hunt
Carlton LaVong is not shy. He’s not quiet and he’s hardly reserved. The Methacton (Pa.) senior is boisterous and fun and inviting. And as soon as he hits the runway he’s on fire. There’s no spotlight that shines on the jumpers alone so he’ll make one.
LaVong took control of the crowd at the New Balance Track and Field Center at the Hispanic Games like he ran the place. He screamed at the crowd. “Let me hear you New York,” he yelled. He demanded their attention and rewarded those he gave it to him.
LaVong first bettered his nation-leading mark in the long jump, clearing 24 feet, 5.5 inches. Then he captivated his audience once more, winning the triple jump in 49-8. Both marks set meet records and are the best in the country this season. For the second straight week he was award the meet’s most outstanding athlete award, this time in honor of former Andrew Jackson High star Julio Meade.
“I love this place,” LaVong said. “When I step in here it’s like a different Carlton.”
LaVong was so excited in the triple jump final that it likely cost him a legal mark on his final attempt. He even encouraged the crowd when his competitors where jumping.
“I just want everyone into it,” he said. “The crowd gets into it, the athletes get into it then I get into it. I want everyone to get a personal best. If they do better then it’s better for me. It’s better for everyone.”
The senior, who is considering USC and LSU, said he had hoped to pop a 25-foot jump and a 50-footer for the triple. Although he said he hadn’t had much opportunity to practice the triple jump, it didn’t’ matter.
“With the triple, it’s like the longer I don’t practice the better I get,” he said.
LaVong, no doubt, has made his name and face familiar at the Armory but some others were just starting to introduce themselves. When a lanky kid from St. Anthony’s careened down the back straightaway in the invitational 400 and it became clear that he controlled the race, the crowd sat mostly stunned in a collective reaction that said one thing.
Well, his name is Patrick Farmer, a senior at St. Anthony's. This is his first track season after playing four years of soccer. But so far he has no concept of pacing, or pain for that matter, and he only knows one gear – fast. Farmer, in his first open 400, won the invitational 400 meters in 48.20, the fastest time in the country this season from Lane 1.
“I was completely surprised by the entire race,” he said. “I just wanted to be beat John Thomas.”
Thomas of Sheepshead Bay grabbed the lead early and carried the field through 250 meters when he started to fade and Farmer catapulted to the front.
“I just jetted,” he said. “I just tried to pass guys and once I got in front I just let the race come to me. I just wanted to run the fastest time I could.”
The boys invitational mile was more about earning an automatic qualifier to the high school mile at the Millrose Games Jan. 29 than just running fast. But Tom Kehl of Father Judge (Pa.) accomplished both. Kehl jumped to the front with 600 to go with a tremendous surge that shocked the field and instantly put a 15-meter cushion behind him and West Winsor Plainsboro-North star Jim Rosa.
Rosa ate the move and recovered the lead a lap later but the race had taken on a frantic pace. Rosa settled in front and Kehl settled again behind Rosa. Then Kehl came back again just before the home stretch. He had nothing left. But neither did Rosa. Kehl won in a personal best and US #1, 4:13.48. Rosa finished second in 4:13.88.
“Coming down with three laps to go, I thought I had to surprise them,” he said. “I had to do something. … It’s risky, of course, but if you don’t do something you’ll never know.”
Robeson’s O’Neil Sandiford tied the top mark in the country, winning the high jump at 6-10, also a personal best. Josh Haghighi of Wheatley scored the top throw in the state while winning the shot put with a toss of 61-9.25. Sheephead Bay'Haddonfield (N.J.) also set a national leader, winning the 4x800 relay in 7:55.44, just ahead of Christian Brothers Academy, which finished second in 7:55.51.
Cory Duggan of Farrell improved on his best in the pole vault. He won by clearing 15-4, bettering his own state-leading mark.
“I came in a little jumpy,” Duggan said. “I wasn’t feeling good in my warmup. I was all over the place. I missed my first two attempts at 14. But once I got over I felt much better.”
Camden’s Syteek Farrington even more to overcome. First, another runner accidently took his lane in the trial heats and to correct the mistake Farrington was forced to run in a later, less competitive heat. But in that race, the runner mistook the starter’s pistol from another race to signal the their start. Farrington had run the entire race before he realized that the officials had called his race back.
“It was tiring,” he said. “The lactic acid had started building in my legs. My legs were burning. But I just had to get through it and stay focused.”
Farrington didn’t have any distractions in the final and popped a stellar start that carried him to a win in 7.46, the third-fastest time in the country this season.
“It’s my first 7.4,” he said. “I was really excited. I just can’t want to go back to practice and do some more work.’