Before Keon Howe became a state-caliber high jumper, he wasn’t even sure if he was one of the best on his own team.
Almost two years ago, at a home meet at Mallard Creek High, Howe jumped 6 inches higher than his previous personal best of 5 feet 10, surprising the then-sophomore.
Two weeks ago, at the 4A state indoor championship meet at the JDL Fast Track in Winston-Salem, the only surprise Howe felt was how close he was to clearing 6-11. Still, the Mavericks senior hit 6-8, which was good enough to earn him his first state championship.
Howe will soon see how he compares to the best high jumpers in the country. He and Mallard Creek teammate Steve Fossi-Noue will compete at the New Balance Nationals Indoor, March 13-15 in New York City.
“I felt great (winning a state championship),” said Howe. “I felt relieved, like my hard worked paid off. It was nice to feel like a champion. I had never felt that way before.
I wanted to look towards nationals coming up.”
Howe’s first try at track and field was in middle school at Piedmont IB. He was a distance runner and high jumper, and after spending a year at Hickory Grove Christian School where he tried basketball Howe transferred to Mallard Creek.
As a sophomore, Howe started the outdoor track and field season by running the 800 meters and a leg on the 4x800 meter relay team. Two weeks after the season started, the Mallard Creek coaches let him try high jumping.
Howe’s first jumps were 5 feet 6, and within a month he gained about 4 inches. At a Mallard Creek home meet in mid-April, Howe jumped higher than all of his teammates and won the event with a leap of 6-4.
Howe also took up pole vaulting that year and eventually won the conference championship.
“I’m always a dare devil, so I like trying new things,” said Howe. “I was never scared so I guess it came naturally to me.”
At the 4A West regionals that year, Howe, Fossi-Noue, and junior teammate K.J. Webb, who was regarded as the team’s best high jumper at that point, all jumped 6-2. Based on criteria, Webb finished fourth, Howe was fifth, and Fossi-Noue placed sixth.
Webb was the only one of the Mavericks jumpers that qualified for the state meet. In the pole vault, Howe finished eighth.
Before his junior year started, Howe’s pole vault coach transferred to another school, leaving Howe on his own to advance in that event. But in the high jump, Howe continued to progress.
In the indoor season, Howe was hitting 6-4 consistently, which is the height he cleared at the 4A state championship meet to finish in second place.
In the outdoor season, Howe won the regional by making 6-4. Fossi-Noue was fourth with a 6-2 jump and Webb placed fifth by reaching 6-0. Howe also qualified for the state meet in the pole vault be hitting 12-0 and finishing fourth.
At the state championships, Howe placed third in the high jump and hit a personal best 14-0 in the pole vault to finish seventh. The Mallard Creek boys team finished third overall.
Entering his senior season, Howe set high jumping 7 feet as a goal. He has gotten close, making 6-10 at a JDL meet in January.
After clearing 6-8 at the state championship meet, Howe tried 6-11 but he says he barely clipped the bar and didn’t make it.
Mallard Creek indoor track and field coach Londell McClary guided Howe through the winter season. Donald Littlejohn is the Mavericks boys’ outdoor coach and says he is going to let the multi-dimensional Howe try hurdles and the long jump this spring.
Howe has signed to compete for the Charlotte 49ers next fall. The future business major says his decision was based as much on the city of Charlotte’s status as a banking hub as much as the university’s proximity to his home.
Joe Habina is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Joe? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.