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Ritter's CJ Jones tabbed state's top track athlete

Cardinal Ritter's CJ Jones was tabbed Missouri's top track and field athlete
photo by Leon Algee Jr.

For the second time in less than four months, a Cardinal Ritter College Prep athlete has received one of the state's highest honors. Charles "CJ" Jones, the Lions' middle-distance standout, was recently chosen by Gatorade as the Missouri male track and field high school athlete of the year. Back in April, the missouri broadcasters and sportswriters voted Sean Michael Clancey, a 6-foot-3-inch senior forward, as the Missouri Class 3 boys basketball player of the year, after Clancey averaged right at 23 points, including a 39-point state semifinal barrage, to lead the Lions to the state title.

Ironically, Jones was also a starter on that team, in fact a 6-3 senior forward who averaged just over 11 points per game. Now he and Clancey have something else in common. but unlike a state classification breakdown in the basketball honors, the track and field awards have but one male and one female recipient to cover all four classes (4,3, 2 and 1).

On the track, Jones who actually committed to the Texas Tech University Red Raiders back during the basketball season, captured the 800 meters, the 400 meters and anchored his club's 4x400-meter relay unit to a come-from-behind victory, after taking the baton in fourth place.

But despite the fact that Ritter competes in Class 3, the second-largest classification of schools, Jones' times in the 800 meters (1:50.98) and 400 meters (47.01 seconds) were faster than the Class 4 winners. In fact Jones set the Class 3 mark in the 400 meters twice at the state meet, when he recorded 47.11 in the prelims before registering 47.01 in the finals which is only three-tenths of a second off the all-time Missouri mark for all classes set by Domenik Peterson of the hometown Jefferson City Jays in 2003.

But CJ is a defending, three-time state champion in the 800 meters. Briefly earlier in the campaign, Jones could claim the nation's best high school time in the 800 meters, before still finishing among the country's top five. As a sophomore, he had already set the lofty standard by breaking the Class 3 record with a time of 1:49.96, while also anchoring his club's 4x800-meter relay squad to the state title. Last season, he accomplished the feat again by anchoring the trio with Jonathan Henderson, Desaviour Ikner and James Williams to a repeat relay state title with a time just under 7-minutes, 55 seconds. Then this past season, winning was virtually automatic as he cemented his legacy with meet and state records along his path.

"He (Jones) was certainly deserving of the honor," said Cardinal Ritter coach Ruben Albright this week, noting that because Jones got a late start on track this spring because he played on the Lions' basketball team, which also captured a state title and thus played as deep into the postseason as possible. "He (Jones) lost about a month of training because of the basketball season," continued Albright. "I was very happy for the basketball team. But in track, CJ was in a catch-up mode all season. He was strong and in great shape for basketball, but he hadn't been running. The superstar (big invitational) meets helped challenge him. At those meets he was still able to reach certain goals, but it still didn't make up for the time he lost."

Cardinal Ritter athletic director Willie Ash acknowledged that Jones is an exceptional athlete, who's humble and he will bear watching on the next level.

"CJ is one track standout that Cardinal Ritter has not had for quite a while," said Ash. "He is a very modest athlete who puts all his energies on performance and not on bragging. This man will be a prospect to keep an eye on during his college career."

In a national invitational meet recently in Oregon, Jones even eclipsed his state-winning time and registered a clocking of 1:49.54, which was good for fourth place, in a race won with a time of 1:48.01 by Tre'tez Kinnaird. "He eclipsed the 1:50 mark in that race because the competition warranted it," explained Albright. "Time was almost secondary.If he wanted to place among the top four runners he knew he would have to run that kind of time. The time was a function of the place he would finish."

In citing the criteria for its winners, per state and per sport, Gatorade listed athletic accomplishments, academic achievement and exemplary character. Jones has a B-average and he has volunteered at the Special Olympics and tutors at a juvenile detention center.

Meanwhile on the track, Albright says none of the past 800-meter state champions whom coached directly or has been around as an opposing coach compares favorably to Jones overall exploits. That includes former Sumner 800-meter state champions, brothers Darnell and Marquise Walker as well as Adrian Robinson He was girls coach at Sumner when the Walker brothers were there and later took over as boys coach to help guide Robinson. However, he observed them all first-hand on a regular basis in practice and at meets to be qualified to judge them all relative in the immensely talented Jones.

In 1988 Darnell Walker won the 800 in Class 4A with a time of 1;52.02 as a senior and the following year, 1989, his younger brother Marquise Walker won the same event with a time of 1:53.34. Then roughly a decade later Adrian Robinson, whom Albright coached directly won the Class 3A title in 1:53.55, a time modest by Jones' contemporary standard..

"I didn't have Walker but he was just a few seconds off CJ in times," recalls Albright. "He was a different style of runner. Darnell Walker had more natural speed from the beginning. When you have a gift like that sometimes you don't have command of that gift."

In the case of Jones, who has broad, chiseled shoulders from hours of weight training and push- ups, Albright said running relaxed and fluidly may sometimes be an issue.

"Sometimes he has to learn to run more relaxed, " explained Albright. "He tightens up at about the last 50 meters. He's very strong and when you're that strong it's real hard to run relaxed. He's capable of running 46.5 in the 400 meters. He just needs to run it more. He missed a lot of speed work when he got such a late start. But the next couple of years will be a learning process against a much higher level of competition and he's only going to get faster.He'll have to run differently on a higher level of competition."

Be that as it may, he's second to none in the state of Missouri at 800 and 400 meters right now.

"He has done everything to earn the award," said Albright of Jones. "CJ's a once-in-25 years-type of athlete. I've had no one like him."

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