Although he is the reigning state indoor champion and had Pennsylvania's best outdoor jump headed to Shippensburg, Saahir Bethea was stunned by what happened on the final attempt of Saturday's Class AAA boys competition.
The Cheltenham senior unleashed one of the longest jumps in state history, regaining a lead he lost only briefly and securing important team points for the Panthers.
“It was a shocker, it was crazy,” Bethea said of his winning leap of 25 feet, 5.75 inches. “I didn't know what to think. I give (the credit) to my coach..”
In improving his PR by almost 15 inches, Bethea was able to reach high expectations that were squarely in front of him.
“There were a lot of people counting on me,” said Bethea, who won the 2015 indoor crown at 22-10. “My teammates were counting on me to accumulate points to win a state title. This is my senior year, this is my last meet jumping with this jersey on, I had to do it.
“The last round Isaiah Brooks was in the lead. Man, it's crazy.”
The state leader at 24-3 from his District 1 victory, Bethea grabbed the top spot Saturday with his 23-10.75 opener and backed it up in round 2 with a 23-5.5 bound.
Brooks of Woodland Hills had a trio of 22-footers in the prelims and was third heading into the finals with a 22-8.5 best. A 23-plus performer during the past three years, the senior moved up a spot in round 4 with a 23-1.5 and improved to 23-5.5 on his next jump.
He took the lead and set the stage for Bethea's emotional finale by cracking the 24-foot code for the first time as a high schooler, breaking the sand at 24-1.5 and grabbing the lead.
“Both of my coaches believed in me, saying I should be jumping 25,” Bethea said of the task before him on Saturday's final jump. “I just had to do it. Show them that I could.
“There was so much adrenaline, there was so much adrenaline. I was speechless when I did it. It was a scream, I had to scream.”
In 1988, former national record holder Dion Bentley of Penn Hills spanned 25-5.25 to win the state title. The following year, he popped a 26-9.25 leap that was the national standard for 20 years.
Unfortunately, Bethea will not get credit for a state meet record as the wind indicator along the runway detected a breeze of 2.9 meters per second, just over the allowable 2.0 mps.
According to the wind gauge readings, breezes went from a solid headwind to a tailwind that proved too generous for record consideration. Both of Bethea's final two jumps were deemed wind aided, as was Brooks' leap for the silver medal.