Allen is on right track for success

Mount Hebron: The Vikings' versatile star runs and jumps to the front. Could a decathlon be in his future?

Sports Beat

Howard County schools

April 13, 2005|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Jason Allen just can't decide.

At first, Allen, a track and field standout at Mount Hebron, says his favorite event is the 300-meter dash during the indoor season. "It's one of those events where you can sprint the entire way, and you don't have to hold back," he says.

A few seconds later, Allen pulls a reversal and anoints the high jump as his preferred event. "It's more fun because it's a rush. Once you get over the bar, you're like, `Yes, I got it,'" he says.

This past winter, the junior swept the high jump at the Class 3A-2A state, West regional and Howard County championships, captured the county long jump title, and competed in the 300 and 500 races en route to being named The Sun's county Performer of the Year.

Allen, who has drawn interest from Maryland, Penn State and Delaware, also placed fourth in the triple jump at last spring's Class 3A state meet and qualified for the 400.

Allen's versatility is the primary factor in his coaches' reasoning that he might want to consider competing in track and field's version of Survivor - the decathlon.

"He's got amazing potential, and it's in a lot of events," says Vikings coach Matt Gitterman, who tutors Allen in the jumps. Coach Jill McClenney counsels Allen in the dashes. "I feel like he can be one of our top two runners in every event from the 100 up to the 800 and then all the jumps. At some point in his life, he's going to be an amazing decathlete."

For now, Allen, 17, is limited to competing in individual events at the high school level and is open to anything.

Last Saturday at the Morgan State Invitational, Allen was first in the long jump with a mark of 20 feet, 11.75 inches, fourth in the high jump and ninth in the 400. Last Wednesday, he participated in the 200 for the first time and defeated reigning Class 2A-1A state 300 champion Chris Brewington of Howard.

Allen's progression in track is surprising considering that he joined the Mount Hebron program during the spring of his freshman year to stay in shape for basketball, which he has been playing since he was 4.

But even as Allen focused much of his effort on basketball, there was little doubt about his speed. His father, David Allen, recalls a race at the family's church when Jason was 4. After the starter had yelled, "Go," everyone left the starting line - everyone except for Jason.

"He stood there for a few seconds and then he took off," says David Allen, a basketball star at Howard High and Towson University. "He didn't win, but he caught up to a lot of people. That's when we knew he was pretty fast."

After qualifying for three events at last spring's state meet and placing in the top six in the long and high jumps, Jason Allen made a monumental decision: he would skip basketball for indoor track.

"I wasn't a starter, I wasn't the star player, and I like to win," says Allen, who was a guard on the Vikings' junior varsity teams during his freshman and sophomore years. "I thought that I'd have more success running track than playing basketball."

Besides winning the high and long jump crowns at the county championships this past January, Allen was a runner-up in the triple jump. At the West regional meet, he participated in the 500 for the first time in his career and the 300 for only the second time. He finished second in the 300 and fourth in the 500.

Allen's bread-and-butter event, however, was the high jump. At the Howard County Winter Track Festival, he cleared 6-3 - which stood as the highest mark posted by an athlete in the Baltimore metropolitan area.

After winning the event at the county and West Region championships, Allen was the No. 1 seed at the state meet. But after placing second in the 300 and hitting the bar on his first attempt at 5-6, Allen says he started to feel the weight of self-doubt on his shoulders.

But with his family keeping him loose by flexing their biceps in the stands, Allen cleared 5-6 on his second attempt; 5-8 on his first try; and 5-10 and 6 feet on his third attempts.

With the field narrowed to him and North Carroll senior Tim Wunderlich, Allen was allowed to go first at 6-2 as Wunderlich trotted over to compete in the 55-hurdle final. Allen cleared the height on his first try, while Wunderlich missed all three attempts.

"I just try to do my best," Allen says. "Sometimes I'll come off the track and say maybe I could've done a little bit more. But I'll learn from that."

Oakland Mills coach Bryan Winfield says he has been impressed with Allen's progression, which isn't lost on his peers.

"Everybody knows who he is," Winfield said. "If he's in anybody's heat, they will definitely know that he's there. There's a certain amount of pressure that goes with that, but if he keeps working, he should be fine."

Allen has become a leader on Mount Hebron, joining seniors Blake Garcia, Jordan Hoolachan and Reed Ulrich. And like the three seniors, Allen has developed into a serious-minded competitor, according to McClenney.

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