History-making performance: Deptford track, Boys Spring Team of the Year

Deptford’s boys track team maximized its potential and overcame injuries to deliver the first outdoor state championship in school history.

Deptford Township High School’s boys track team made history in 2019, collecting the first outdoor state title in program history. The Spartans also had six athletes win individual or relay state titles this spring. For their efforts, they have been named South Jersey Sports Weekly’s boys spring Team of the Year. Pictured left to right are seniors Naseem Smith, Donnie Scott, Khi’on Smith, Jake Lynch, Marcel Washington, Amadu Jalloh and head coach Kevin Sherry. (RYAN LAWRENCE, South Jersey Sports Weekly)

On one afternoon two autumns ago, after football practice, Deptford junior Jake Lynch was messing around in the high school gym with a basketball. Lynch handled kicking duties for the football team, but has the tall, lean build of a high school wide receiver.

Naturally the rangy teenager could dunk.

Kevin Sherry, who works officially as the Spartans boys track coach and unofficially as a full-time recruiter for that program, couldn’t help but notice Lynch’s athletic potential. So he grabbed a ball, too.

“Hey, Jake,” Sherry said, standing behind the three-point line on the corner of the court. “If I make this shot, you have to come out (to track) and jump for me.”

Lynch laughed and agreed to the challenge. Sherry let loose on the shot.

Swish.

“A deal is a deal,” Sherry said with a smile recently. “And now he’s a state champ.”

This is just one of the incredible stories within the Deptford boys track program. In the first semester of his junior year of high school, Lynch hadn’t competed in track and field before and, less than a year and a half later, won the Group 3 state championship in the pole vault as a member of the Spartans Group 3 state championship track team. Lynch will continue his track and field career at Kutztown University.

“God is great, he works in mysterious ways,” Sherry said. “For some reason I was meant to walk through the gym that day and he was supposed to be in there.”

And then there are the distance runners without expectations that shined when the spotlight was brightest. And the twin brothers who have basically pushed each other since birth. And the relay understudies forced into action when injury ravaged one of the state’s top foursomes and didn’t just hold their own, but ran to a state title win, too.

Deptford Township High School’s Steven Rios, Amadu Jalloh, Khi’on Smith, Tyrece Brown show off their medals from their Group 3 state championship-winning 4X400 relay while teammates (left to right) Richeid Fawkes, Julian Rodriguez, Phil Sedalis, Donnie Scott, Marcel Washington, Jake Lynch and Donovan Clement signify the program’s first-ever outdoor team state championship. (RYAN LAWRENCE, South Jersey Sports Weekly)

Perhaps unlike any sport, track and field takes a true team effort for a program to reach its highest goals. You can’t just rely on a relay team or a couple of strong hurdlers or sprinters; you need distance runners and adequate performers in the field events, too.

The boys track team at Deptford Township High School was a true team in that sense, with the depth and dedication that paid off with the first outdoor state championship in program history. For their efforts, the Spartans are also South Jersey Sports Weekly’s Boys Spring Track Team of the Year.

“It’s amazing, it’s amazing to go off like that, to go to graduation knowing your team (reached its goal) and made history and we’ll remember it for the rest of our lives,” said the Syracuse University-bound Naseem Smith, a back-to-back state champion in the 110-meter hurdles.

“South Jersey has a lot of talent, if you’re talking all sports,” said Smith’s twin brother, Khi’on, a Shippensburg University football recruit who ran with Tyrece Brown, Amadu Jalloh, and Steven Rios on the Spartans 4X400 relay state championship team. “So knowing we’re the best team in South Jersey, it feels great.”

“It’s very humbling,” Sherry said.

It’s also an honor that was years in the making and a testament to the yearlong work of the student athletes and coaches who set out a goal and realized it this spring. When the Spartans returned from a 90-minute drive from Central Regional High School in Berkeley Township, the site of the state championships, their bus received the Gatorade-like celebration treatment: upon arrival, it was soaked in the high school parking lot by the township’s fire department trucks.

“That was awesome,” Lynch said.

“It’s something I can tell my kids,” added Jalloh.

One of the remarkable feats of Deptford’s track team in the spring of 2019 was to collect its first state championship despite being down two of its top athletes. Seniors Tyriq Bundy and Javon Sanders, who ran two legs of the Spartans 4X100 Meet of Champions first-place relay team last spring, were unable to compete this spring due to injuries.

Without Bundy and Sanders this year’s 4X100 team still placed second at states – .11 seconds out of first place. Deptford’s 4X400 relay did take first place and its 4X800 relay placed sixth.

“They filled big shoes very fast, for them to do that, they were very clutch,” Naseem Smith said. “We needed all the points we could get to win sectionals and states. Everybody needs to play a part, and we had people step up which is great.”

Deptford’s seniors hold up the prize, the first track outdoor state championship trophy in program history, a day before graduation earlier this month. (RYAN LAWRENCE, South Jersey Sports Weekly)

Among the other top finishers at states: Khi’on Smith placed sixth in the 100-meter dash and eighth in the 400-meter dash, Donovan Clement was ninth in the 200-meter dash, Jalloh and Phil Sedalis were 12th and 13th in the 800-meter run, Tyrece Brown was 10th in the 400-meter hurdles, and Marcel Washington placed third in the long jump.

Washington, like Lynch, didn’t join the team until his junior year of high school, and now will continue the sport at Kutztown, too, thanks to the recruiting efforts of Sherry. But that’s what it took for Deptford to make school history: a coaching staff with the creativity and determination to give his team its best shot and the athletes willing to work.

“We lost two guys who were major contributors to the team, not just relays, but individual events,” Sherry said. “But other guys stepped up and they didn’t miss a beat. With Bundy and Javon going down, Richeid Fawkes stepped up and did very well for us, Donnie Scott stepped up, our distance team. We got points out of our 4X800 team, and I can’t tell you the last time that happened.

“And then our 800 guys in Amadu and Phil. We had a first-year runner in Stephen Rios that ran on our 4X400, and that normally would have been Javon and Bundy as well. A first-year kid coming out and running a 50.3 on your first 4X400 to help you win a state championship? We just have special kids. We have special kids at Deptford.”