A trio of outstanding 2017 Gatorade State Track and Field Athletes of the Year – all members of Team NSAF at #CSICuba16 and all esteemed veterans of many NSAF events – have each recently donated their “Play it Forward” award to the NSAF.
Trey Cunningham, Turner Washington and KD Young – three diverse student-athletes from around the country – each independently selected the NSAF as their national or local youth sports organization of choice to receive a $1,000 grant Gatorade gave them to donate. Young is a 2-time Gatorade Illinois T&F Athlete of the Year, while Cunningham (Alabama) and Washington (Arizona) were honored by Gatorade for the first time.
Here are their thoughts and stories:
“I chose the NSAF as the recipient of my “Play it Forward” program donation because they have given me so much,” says Trey Cunningham, a Winfield City HS (AL) grad and Florida State recruit. “First, I was chosen to be on the #CSICuba16 team. This was an amazing opportunity that helped me meet many people and open up many doors. Secondly, New Balance Nationals has given many high school athletes a venue for some of the highest competition in the nation.”
Cunningham first learned of his CSI opportunity during an Alabama indoor state meet quadruple in February, 2016. That March, he ran an outstanding PR of 7.71 in the 60H at NBNI, finishing 4th behind record-setting Grant Holloway, Braxton Canady and Marcus Krah. Could he have imagined the epic races he would have against Krah and Holloway later that spring?
Cunningham’s stellar 110H battle with teammate Krah was the individual highlight of last year’s CSI, the NSAF competitors smoking through barrier after barrier with Trey getting the narrow verdict at the tape. It was the only loss Krah would suffer all outdoor season in the 110s as he went on to become World U20 champion. Cunningham, meanwhile, continued to run great, despite getting edged by Krah at NBNO, then Krah again along with Holloway and Amere Lattin at USA Juniors.
This past winter, however, the Alabama supernova had an unforgettable campaign over 60H that climaxed with a spectacular, history-making weekend at NBNI. Cunningham started with a 7.63 way back in December, then ripped through the season untouched – first breaking the national record in late January with a 7.49 at a Alabama last chance meet. Still, no one was prepared for what happened at The Armory in March.
First, he stunned even himself with a national record 7.45 in his prelim! (that provoked THIS reaction). He then ran a controlled 7.51 in the semis, and finally again crushed his HSR with a 7.40 in the final – setting off THIS joyous sprint halfway around the oval.
Cunningham’s outdoor campaign was anticlimactic – stunted by a nagging injury that wouldn’t heal, though he did still run a US#2 13.35 and win the 110s at his final state meet (his 20th Class 3A state title overall, indoors and out, in several individual events). The Seminole Nation has to be thrilled at the super talent they’re getting.
“Both of these events (CSI, NBN) have helped shaped the hurdler that I am today,” Cunningham concludes. “Finally, the NSAF has given me so much love and support.”
“I chose the NSAF because I knew that my charitable donation would be used to help all athletes not just those in the headlining events,” says Turner Washington. “The NSAF has a love for all of track and field, not just the sprints. As a thrower, it is rare to be treated as an equal. For the past two summers, I've had the privilege to compete at the Iron Wood Throws Classic, all expenses paid, a competition that gave me the chance to throw far, learn new things and mature as an athlete.”
Indeed, even with his impressive victories for Team NSAF at #CSICuba16 and at this year’s NBNO – Washington’s performance at Iron Wood two months ago was arguably his finest. On his 2nd and 3rd attempts, the Canyon del Oro HS, AZ senior reached 206-8 and then a winning 212-0 with the Junior weight discus (1.75kg) – second only to Mason Finley on the all-time prep list with that implement. Combined with his 227-10 performance a few weeks earlier with the high school platter, Washington solidified his status as one of the top 3-4 overall prep discus throwers ever.
When the NSAF first picked Washington for the #CSICuba16 last year, he had reached 201-4 early in his junior season. In Cuba, he jump-started Team NSAF’s weekend with his opening event victory, then continued to perform well both in his Iron Wood debut (2nd, 196-3) and his first NBNO (2nd, 198-1).
Washington’s improvement as a senior, however, has been breathtaking. He was unbeaten and racked up seven meets between 211-218 feet through his state meet. Then at the Tucson Elite Classic on May 18, he launched the eye-popping 227-10 -- #4 all-time behind Ryan Crouser, Finley and Niklas Arrhenius. After Iron Wood, Washington crushed the meet record at NBNO with a 223-2, his #2 meet of the year. Then at USA Juniors, he was finally beaten – though there was no shame in finishing 2nd to Texas’s great Gabe Oladipo. Finally, at Pan Am Juniors, Washington concluded his stellar prep career with a silver medal performance – a fine finish as he heads to U. of Arizona.
“By putting on and sponsoring the meets that they do, the NSAF has made sure that the best athletes in their respected events will have the opportunity to compete against one another -- making high school track and field more competitive than ever before,” Washington continues. “This is something that I believe will help our sport regain some of the national media attention that it rightfully deserves.
“Thank you, NSAF, for everything that you have done for me, and for the track and field community.”
It’s safe to say that the 2017 Iron Wood Throws will remain a cherished memory for KD (Kathleen) Young, as well.
Motivated by the stellar performances of her teammates and the elite pros around her in the previous events, as well as her own PR in the hammer (172-8) earlier in the morning, Young practically leapt into the shot put ring that day with uncommon energy and a galvanizing smile on her face.
The Warrensburg-Latham, HS IL senior popped a 51-8.25 on her first throw, but she was just getting started. She improved to 51-11 on her 2nd throw, then exploded with a PR 53-5 on her 3rd – a distance only national-record setter Alyssa Wilson surpassed in 2017. Young finished off the great series and her performance became one of the best stories of the meet. It was the highlight of a senior year that included runner-up shot put finishes at both NBN meets and a strong 4th-place at USATF Juniors.
Regarding “Play it Forward,” Young said she was surprised and happy to hear that Gatorade was “giving us a grant this year to give to the people who have helped athletes like me get to where I am.”
“For the last three years, NSAF has brought more than just opportunities to succeed, they have made the sport fun,” she says. “I was able to make connections with elite athletes that I look up to and make friends with other amazing track and field peers. I have made many relationships that I wouldn't have been able to without NSAF.”
Young’s consistency as a shot putter and all-around throwing talent inspired the NSAF to select her for #CSICuba16 last spring. Consistency and steady progress has marked her prep career. In Illinois, she won 11 Class 1A state titles in the throws, indoor (Top Times) and out, and in NBN meets made the All-American podium six times (plus two near-misses). She competed in all eight NBN meets contested during her four years. While she hasn’t quite yet reached the stratospheric levels of Cunningham and Washington, Iron Wood – where that 53-5 shot put made her #12 all-time – presented a window into her potential. It’s exciting to imagine the levels she might reach now at U. of South Carolina and beyond.
“I was always looking forward to the summer for nationals and other activities that NSAF runs,” Young adds. “My high school experience in track and field wouldn't have been what it was without them. I want to give back what I can to NSAF so that they can keep supporting, encouraging, and motivating upcoming outstanding athletes.”
A press release from Gatorade noted that as Gatorade Players of the Year, honorees were able to select a national or local youth sports organization to receive a grant as part of the Gatorade Play It Forward program. Every Gatorade Player of the Year state winner received a $1,000 grant to donate and had the opportunity to enter for an additional $10,000 spotlight grant by writing a brief essay explaining why their selected organization deserves additional support. 12 spotlight grants – one for each sport – will be announced throughout the year.
The Gatorade Player of the Year program has a page on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/GatoradePOY/) and a Twitter feed (https://twitter.com/gatorade and #GatoradePOY), and the program’s web site (www.gatorade.com/poy) has more on the Gatorade Player of the Year program, including nomination information, a complete list of current and past winners, and highlights the Gatorade National Players of the Year – which included 13-time NBN champion and 2016 Olympian Sydney McLaughlin as this year’s girls’ overall winner.