In eighth grade, after a poor performance in the long jump, Lance Hamilton stayed at State College’s track to keep working.
Some people were cleaning up, but Hamilton was alone by the pits, running and jumping for an extra 30 minutes. He was “the worst one at everything” in the jumping events in his first season in seventh grade, something that drove him to get better. So when he wasn’t satisfied that day in eighth grade, he kept jumping even though his efforts weren’t measured.
“But I could see improvement, and I could feel myself getting more confident and comfortable,” Hamilton said.
The St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy sophomore has come a long way since his middle school days and enjoyed a standout day at the District 6 Class 2A Track and Field Championships on Tuesday at Altoona’s Mansion Park, capturing gold medals in both the triple jump and long jump. Hamilton finished first in the triple jump with a leap of 44 feet, 5 1/4 inches and took first with a school-record 22-2 in the long jump. With his performance, Hamilton will compete in both events at the PIAA championships, set to be held May 26-27 at Shippensburg University.
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He earned his first gold medal of the day in the long jump, taking the top spot on the podium and showing no reaction when his name was announced. Hamilton said he didn’t want to get excited with more competition ahead, so when he stood atop the podium for the triple jump with two gold medals around his neck, Hamilton stuck his tongue out and smiled.
The sophomore said his parents pushed him into track — it was a way to stay healthy and in shape — but he wasn’t much of an athlete. Hamilton chose the jumps because he didn’t want to run.
But he didn’t even like his chosen events at first. He felt embarrassed and kept to himself at meets, choosing not to talk to the better jumpers.
“Every meet it was kind of like, ‘I really don’t want to be out here.’ I was that jumper that everybody had to wait for to get done,” Hamilton said. “It was kind of like an obligation just to stay and wait for him to finish.
“That kind of just drove me to keep grinding and try and get better.”
He improved in eighth grade and started to enjoy the sport. And after eighth grade, he said, he took off. Last year as a freshman, Hamilton finished third in the triple jump and took 10th in the long jump.
Now he’s more talkative — he laughed and talked with opponents during Tuesday’s district meet. But St. Joseph’s teammate Michael Peters described Hamilton as intense, saying he can tell by his tone when they chat.
St. Joseph’s coach Jayson Jackson also sees that intensity from Hamilton on meet days.
“I think he’s like a lot of the kids,” Jackson said. “They have a lot of fun with each other. They’re like a really close family, so I think on meet day he does have a switch he can turn on when he needs to and gets to the next level.”
Hamilton reached the next level with his effort Tuesday and continued to impress Peters.
“Today I actually saw his last jump when he did the triple with his 44-5,” Peters said. “And I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, Lance, that was the like the best jump I’ve ever seen.’”
Hamilton didn’t think he’d become a district champion when he first started competing in the sport in seventh grade, but he left Altoona with two gold medals Tuesday.
“I’m glad that I stuck with it even though it wasn’t my choice at first,” Hamilton said. “Some things just happen by chance, but I believe everything happens for a reason.”
In addition to St. Joseph’s Lance Hamilton, Wolves runners Michael Peters and Zach DeCarmine qualified for the PIAA Championships. Peters recorded a time of 1:59.39 to take third in the 800-meter run. DeCarmine took third in the 300 hurdles (41.63). Philipsburg-Osceola’s Dane Soltys tied for third in the high jump (6-0).