FRUITPORT – It’s easy to assume that young athletes are mostly interested in the sports that draw the most interest, like football and basketball.
That’s where they get the big crowds, cheers and headlines.
Fruitport Calvary Christian freshman Bradley Richards already knows what that’s all about. He has been a standout on the Calvary varsity basketball team for the past two seasons, and this winter averaged 22 points and 13 rebounds per game and earned first-team All-State honors.
Despite all the attention he received for that, Richards also had track and field in the back of his mind throughout the school year.
He was particularly focused on his main event – the high jump – because he barely missed qualifying for the state finals last year as an eighth-grader.
He definitely didn’t miss this season.
Richards won the high jump championship in the Division 4 regional track and field tournament in Brethren last month, beating a group of older and more far more experienced competitors.
Now he’s headed to the state finals on Saturday in Hudsonville, along with six teammates from Fruitport Calvary – fellow freshman Nora Pollack, who won a regional title in the 200 meter run; senior Ethan Cammenga, who was the regional runner-up in the 110-meter hurdles and 300-meter hurdles; and the team of Pollack, McKenna Wilson, Ava Wilson and Cate Anhalt, which won the regional title in the 400-meter and 200-meter relays.
Richards won his regional title in exciting fashion. The competition came down to Richards and two other high jumpers, facing the challenge of clearing the 6-foot-1 mark.
Each competitor had three tries, and each missed on the first two. Richards cleared it on his third try, while the other two failed, so he won the regional title.
“I was just thinking, ‘I have one chance to do this to go to state for sure,’” he said. “I just prayed and went at it. I think I was overthinking on the first two jumps. The last one I just went out and did it. It was really exciting.”
Richards is very tall for a freshman – 6-foot-4 – and with his basketball experience, the high jump might seem like a natural event for him.
But jumping up to grab a rebound in basketball and contorting your body to clear the pole in the high jump are very different challenges. Some athletes spend years perfecting the technique, but Richards never even tried the high jump before last season.
His rapid progress in the sport has been pretty amazing, and he’s just scratching the surface of his potential.
“Last year we had a coach come in and he showed me the basics of it,” Richards said. “That was my first year of doing it, but the coach really broke it down for me and made it simple. I just had to get the form down. Flexibility is the hardest part of it. You have to twist at the last second and jump backwards over it.”
This season he cleared the 6-1 ¾ mark several times, won the Alliance League high jump championship, and started focusing on making the state finals.
“He came in this year and said ‘Coach I’m going to state,’ and I said, ‘Cool, let’s do it,” said Fruitport Calvary track coach Brendan Hamilton. “He was actually saying that way back in the fall. Everybody knows that basketball is his sport, but he has a love for track, too.
“He was jumping 5-10 last year and was hitting that mark every single meet, but he struggled to get above that. He had never done it before, and he was doing it purely on athleticism. This year he was hitting 6-1 ¾ consistently. He grew a little bit, he’s been in the weight room a lot, and he’s a hard-working kid.”
Richards will be competing against elite athletes on Saturday, but he’s not afraid of the competition. If anything, he views it as a new challenge.
His main goal on Saturday is to finish in the top eight in the event, which would earn him All-State status. Three years from now, when he’s a senior, his goal will probably be much higher.
“I think I do,” Richards said, when asked if he thought he had a chance to make All-State on Saturday. “It all depends on how everyone jumps that day, but we’ll see. There’s a guy who’s been jumping 6-7, I think. I tried 6-5 once and came pretty close, but that was in practice with a lot less pressure.”
When asked why he enjoys the high jump so much, with no big crowds watching and cheering him on, Richards said, “I just like competing against myself and not really worrying about what other people are doing. It’s just really nice to see how your hard work pays off.
“I’m really hoping to go to college for the high jump and basketball. I think I can do both. I know a guy at Cornerstone (University) who did both. Last season it just started clicking for me. I hit 5-10, and I just thought ‘I can do something with this,’ and I just started practicing.”