By Marty Farmer
Like a basketball player at the free throw line or a baseball player in the batter's box, high jumpers tend to have their rituals to foster consistency and hopefully peak results. OPRF junior Chris Wright-Madison, who finished eighth in the high jump by clearing 6 feet, 5 inches at the state finals last spring, has trimmed in half his previously lengthy minute-plus routine before attempting a jump over the bar.
"My approach was pretty long before but now it's shorter," Wright-Madison said. "It's given me more confidence on my approach. This season I'd like to be a state champion in the high jump or at least finish in the Top 3."
Wright-Madison appears right on track for a strong finish to the outdoor season. On Saturday, he won the high jump (clearing 6-6) at the Jim Arnold Invitational hosted by Glenbard West. He also ran a leg of the Huskies' 800 and 1,600 relay teams which posted times of 1 minute 31.40 seconds and 3 minutes 24.18 seconds, respectively, to earn first place as well.
Previously, he won the high jump event in April at both the Downers Grove South and Naperville North invites by clearing 6-4 on both occasions.
"The last few weeks, I've been dealing with a hamstring problem," said Wright-Madison, "but I've been icing it and stretching it pretty good. I was happy with my performance and I thought our team did well at Glenbard West."
About the only Huskie who arguably had a better all-around meet than Wright-Madison was teammate Lionel Towns, who won the 100 with a time of 10.96 and ran on the aforementioned relay teams. Towns was also as member of the Huskies' 400 relay squad of Jamal Baggett, Kahrion Martin, Desmond Bird-Murphy and Towns which garnered second place (43.07) behind Edwardsville.
"Lionel is a beast," Wright-Madison said. "He has so much ability. He won the 100 at Glenbard West and also ran the anchor leg for both our winning relay teams."
OPRF track and field coach Tim Hasso is just thankful to have both gifted athletes, along with other standouts like Baggett, Bird-Murphy and Martin on the Huskies' speed-laden roster.
"Both Chris and Lionel are extremely humble and outstanding teammates," Hasso said. "They won their individual events on Saturday and that was certainly a big deal for them, but their eyes light up when they had success on the relays. They got to share that experience with their teammates twice with the 800 and 1,600 relays. You can tell that being part of that success means a lot to them."
"In the individual races, Lionel gets better and better each week. His foot speed is outstanding. We'll focus on getting him out of the blocks more aggressively in practice over the next three weeks. Wright-Madison and Martin continue to really jump well, while balancing out their duties on the relay teams."
Wright-Madison hopes to compete in track and field and study aerospace engineering in college. An honors student at OPRF, he is already drawing interest from Notre Dame, Central Michigan and the Naval Academy among other schools.
Wright-Madison credits much of his success to influential coaches like Dave Benson at Percy Julian Middle School, who introduced him to the high jump, as well as OPRF's high jump coach Danielle Dobias and Hasso.
He proved a quick study in the sport. After taking up the high jump in sixth grade, Wright-Madison set the school record at Julian two years later. The previous record-holder at Julian was Carl Heinz, a former OPRF star who won the second of his two Class 3A state titles with the Huskies in 2012 when Wright-Madison was a freshman. Heinz is now a member of the Duke track and field team.
"At Julian, we had the same group of guys like me, Jamal, Desmond, Lionel and Kahrion that we have [now] at OPRF," Wright-Madison said. "It's really fun and we have great team chemistry and talent."
But no one has supported the development of Wright-Madison more than his mom, Angie.
"My mom has always had my back," Wright-Madison said. "She goes to most of my meets and she's very supportive of me, which means everything."
Galvanized by their strong showing at Glenbard West and blessed with leaders like Wright-Madison, Hasso feels the Huskies are just scratching the surface of their potential.
"A top-three finish at a quality meet like the Jim Arnold Invite felt good," Hasso said, "but the clarity that this experience brought to our roster is far more encouraging, moving forward."
The Midtown Athletic Club Athlete Feature, The Midtown Athletic Club Athlete of the Week and weekly sports calendar/scoreboard are sponsored by Midtown Athletic Club in Oak Park.