Four years, four titles: Whitaker captures another MOC title

Win gives Highland standout back-to-back outdoor triple jump championships

MATTHEW SHINKLE/South Jersey Sports Weekly: Highland’s Floyd Whitaker capped off his historic high school track and field career earlier this month at his final Meet of Champions, capturing his second consecutive triple jump title.

From his first few jumps and events as a Tartan during his freshman year, coaches at Highland Regional High School were raving about how good Floyd Whitaker was going to be when all was said and done.

“We knew right away that he was going to be something really special,” said jumps coach Jim Brudnicki.

Now, after his final Meet of Champions performance in June — in which he earned his fourth title and sixth Meet of Champions medal overall — Whitaker can look back at what is one of the most dominant high-school track careers in state history.

During the recent meet, Whitaker won the triple jump by nearly 2 feet, jumping 49 feet, 7 inches, a little shy of his own personal record and the all-time Meet of Champions record of 50 feet, 2.5 inches, which he had previously set back in 2019. Perhaps more notably, Whitaker registered the four longest jumps of the competition, while his winning jump this year gave him the sixth best jump in meet history and eighth best in the country so far this year, according to the MileSplit database.

In all, the high marks and numerous achievements over the years are emblematic of the mindset Whitaker has always had while on the track.

“My first goal is and always has been to win,” said Whitaker. “No matter what event I’m in.”

Around the same time COVID began, Whitaker made a decision to focus solely on track and field, leading him to leave the basketball team in mid-season. At that time, the then-junior had discussed with other track athletes and coaches the difficulty of balancing multiple sports, especially when someone is so exceptional at one in particular.

Although a tough decision, Whitaker made the choice to focus solely on track, ultimately resulting in him taking two gold medals at the 2020 indoor Meet of Champions in both long and triple jump later that season. That made him the second South Jersey athlete to win two different events at the meet in the same season.

“I knew that I was good at track and I just didn’t really know how good I could be at first,”  said Whitaker. “It felt like more of a mental thing at first, because it wasn’t easy to leave a team like that. I didn’t want to just leave them, but I eventually recognized that track is where I’m going, what I want to go to school for and what I want to do moving forward.”

Whitaker won the triple jump at the outdoor Meet of Champions when it was last held in 2019, meaning his recent win in the 52nd annual Meet of Champions gave him back-to-back wins. If not for the pandemic, Whitaker had a real shot at three consecutive outdoor titles.

Despite the missed opportunity, he has still made sure to capitalize on every other opportunity given to him: The fearless competitor went undefeated this year in the triple jump across all competitions.

Assistant coach and former head coach Bob Wagner gave high praise to the type of athlete Whitaker is and has shown to be over the past four year at Highland.

“The kid dedicated himself to the team and he always thinks he can win,” said Wagner. “He’s one of the best track athletes I’ve ever seen.”

While on the track throughout the season, the multitalented senior helped the Tartans in a variety of events, always scoring high in the jumps, hurdles and sprints.

“He’s always helped the team as much as he could, getting Highland to the conference title and the county title and sectionals and states, but he did all that without having really jump much in the beginning of the year,” said Wagner. “He’s always been a hard worker and fierce competitor.”

Whitaker has one final meet as a high-school athlete on the schedule, and he’s now preparing to travel to Eugene, Oregon, for the National Scholastic Championships at Hayward Field on June 30 through July 3. Looking back, Whitaker said the past year and a half have been eye opening as he once again trained for a full season and realized his full potential while focusing solely on track over an entire year.

“I almost feel like I did take it for granted at first before COVID, because I would just go out, do my thing and win or lose, and that was how it would be,” said Whitaker. “But now I look at it and realize that this is almost over and it’s bittersweet. These are my last jumps as a high schooler, but it means a lot to be able to compete one last time before it all comes to an end.”

Whitaker has not yet committed to a college, but he expects to continue his track career at that level. Wherever that may be, Whitaker’s coaches believe the school he chooses will be more than happy to have him on its roster.

“He’s going to have a tremendous college career, and it’s still a question mark as to specifically where that’ll be, but once we do find a home for him, some coach is going to find out just how special this kid is,” Wagner predicted.

“The distances he can jump and the times he can run into one person is just really special … He’s never really specialized in any of these events, so a college coach is really going to fall into something special with him,” added the coach.