TJ Hobart waited patiently before making his move. Then, with about 250 meters to go, it was time.
Hobart, a Baldwin High School sophomore, sprinted down the homestretch en route to running a personal best 4:15 in the 1,600-meter run at the TSTSA Outdoor Championship, held March 31 at West Mifflin High. In the process he defeated Central Catholic senior Scott Van Kooten.
(Photo from 3/31 TSTCA Champs by Jeremy Lenzi)
"I was still running off my base from indoors," Hobart said. "I figured I'd be around 4:20, but I wasn't sure about 4:15 this early in the season, so I was really surprised."
Hobart, who's full name is Thomas John Hobart Jr., didn't surprise his coaches a whole lot. According to head Baldwin coach Ed Helbig, the program tries to find one eighth grade boy who appears to have the potential to go far in high school.
Two years ago they had a hunch it would be Hobart, who as a middle schooler, had posted times of 56 seconds for the 400 and 2:18 for the 800, despite focusing on basketball and soccer. Hobart has since quit his other sports to focus on running.
"We knew we had something pretty special there," Helbig said. "Last year he wasn't quite strong enough to run more than two events."
But after a solid cross country season this past fall, Hobart was strong enough to anchor the team's distance medley relay this winter and begin to focus on the mile. He found himself running a personal best 4:21 and competing in the men's Millrose Mile qualifying mile at the Montgomery Invitational.
His former mid-distance PR's are also long gone as Hobart can now boast about a 50-flat 400 and a 1:56 800.
Hobart also proved that his 1,600-meter time wasn't a fluke by running 4:18 last week to win the 1,600 at the South Hills Classic on his home track, once again defeating Van Kooten and a host of other talented runners in the process.
"It was kind of a rainy day, so I wasn't expecting anything fast," Hobart said. "I feel pretty good about it, but there's room to improve."
Hobart will race in a few more invitationals, including ones at McDowell and at home, before gearing up for districts and the state meet. After finishing eighth in the mile at the indoor championships, he's eying up another medal.
He'll also be teaming up with some of his teammates, who include Chris Wolfe, David Adley, Brandon Hahn, Shaun Buyse and Dennis Logan on the 4x4 and 4x8 relays later this season.
Over the winter Baldwin's DMR and 4x8 finished sixth and fifth at the Nike Indoor National meet in Maryland, both earning all-American status.