The view from the long-jump pit at Harry Geldien Stadium from the press box is impeded only by the multi-colored flags separating infield from track. That gives officials a clear line of sight to jumpers participating some 40 yards away.
Billings Skyview (Montana) High School coaches set their equipment up in that very press box last month for the Kelly Walsh Invitational before turning their attention to some of the participants. After commenting on the number of heats and starting height in the high jump, their attention quickly turned to the pit in front of them where Natrona County senior Hunter Brown had just made his first jump. Coaches, inside the press box and on the infield, marveled at the grace and form with which the senior jumps. They appreciated, almost within slow motion, how Brown’s run-up had purpose, how he effortlessly planted for a final time before casting his body into the sandpit with abandon.
Track and field fans in Wyoming have watched Brown for years. The effect his gold-medal winning jumps have on bystanders hasn’t subsided even as news of his commitment to the University of Wyoming spread. Those visiting coaches, who weren’t nearly as familiar with Brown as others at the meet, marveled at fluidity before the event official proclaimed: “23 feet, 3 inches.”
Brown, a two-time outdoor state champion and defending indoor champion in that event, has dealt with a mixed bag of results this season. He already has Wyoming’s all-class best mark in the long jump this season with a leap of 23 feet, 7 inches. It’s the high jump that’s been giving him fits.
“I’ve gotten 23’s and that was good to get back there,” Brown said. “High jump has been a little frustrating, can’t seem to get to that 6-8 mark yet. I know I have it, but that’s frustrating.”
The closest he’s come is 6-7. Perhaps this weekend, his final opportunity to further his legend as a Mustang, is the time he can clear the elusive height.
The senior has chosen to focus on that rather than the triple jump, in which he also has the top mark in Class 4A in and appears primed to win his third gold medal.
Brown’s not sure where his acclimation for the jumping events came from. His mother was a gymnast, which could have something to do with his ability to contort his body while on the run-up. His father ran distance but was also a baseball and basketball standout capable of the occasional dunk. So he entered his first track season humble only to discover his abilities. Still, he didn’t consider himself to have NCAA Division I-jumping potential. He didn’t have any personal ambitions and deferred attention to the team, which he made his top priority.
“I just thought that I was pretty good at it so I was just going to help the team do whatever was needed,” Brown said. “I just wanted to be there and be good.”
But through his career he’s been able to surprise himself. He admitted that clearing the 23-foot mark in the long jump at last year’s state meet was a landmark result for him. That surprising result, of course, has become his standard a year later. Brown stated that his biggest shock to date came during his senior indoor track season when he went 23-10 in the long jump. That surprising mark is now cemented in the history books as the long jump state record for indoor.
“That surprised myself a lot,” Brown said. “I was not doing good that meet but when I hit that mark I couldn’t believe it.”
The Mustang standout now goes into his final high school track meet with only a few attempts left at achieving his last remaining goals. All those high-jump frustrations can vanish with a successful leap on the final weekend.
A satisfying mark this weekend would bring a fulfilling end to his high school career. Indoor season included, he enters his final meet as a five-time state champion jumper on the verge of increasing that tally. By the final medal ceremony he could etch his name further into school history as one of the best jumpers in Mustangs history.
“There’s some stuff I wish I could have done better, obviously, you always want to do better, but I’m really proud of myself for being able to improve each year,” he said. “I feel proud of what I’ve done, that’s been really good.”
When he takes his mark this weekend it won’t be with his mind on any state records, those remain in the far distance. Brown, in fact, has made a point to stay out of his own head and not over-analyze each step on his jump. The crowd and coaches, however, will watch each phase of his jumps with reverence. It’s one final opportunity to watch the effortless leap of Hunter Brown before he dons the brown and gold.