Dating back to the 1930s or so, Hudson County has enjoyed a rich, storied and fulfilling tradition in high school track and field. There have been countless great athletes and thousands of sensational performances going back over the last eight decades. It’s been a ledger of success, a litany of excellence.
But it’s going to be hard to top the incredible success that Hudson County enjoyed last weekend at the respective NJSIAA state sectional track and field championships. It may very well be the best overall weekend that anyone has ever seen locally.
Combined, Hudson County athletes collected a total of 11 gold medals at the state sectional meets last weekend.
We’ll start with Snyder’s Kali Kendall, who won the girls’ 400-meter run in the North Jersey Section 2, Group II meet with a time of 57.09. Kendall, who transferred to Snyder from Bishop Loughlin in New York, becomes the first Snyder girl to win a state sectional gold medal in more than 20 years.
Then we have Memorial’s Christian Gomez, who won the North 1, Group IV boys’ javelin with a fine toss of 168 feet even.
They are state sectional champions all the same, but what they accomplished pales in comparison with the achievements of three others.
In fact, St. Peter’s Prep’s sensational sprinter Najee Glass, the defending state champion in the 400-meter run, has to take a little bit of a backseat this week. The junior Glass did well at the Non-Public A North state sectionals, winning two gold medals in the 200-meter dash (in 21.60) and his prime event, the 400-meter run (47.13). Glass remains the favorite to repeat as overall state champion in that event.
However, Glass’ two-win day at the Non-Public sectionals can’t compare to the incredible accomplishments of Dickinson’s Jose Veras and Snyder’s Zamir Thomas.
Both young men did the unthinkable last weekend, each winning four gold medals at their respective state sectional meets.
Veras, who continues to carve a legacy that is matched in these parts by no one at all, won the 400-meter run, the 800-meter run, the 400-meter intermediate hurdles and the high jump at the North Jersey Section 2, Group IV championships.
Not to be outdone, Thomas collected four gold medals at the North 2, Group II meet in the 100-meter dash, the 200-meter dash, the 400-meter run and ran one of the legs in Snyder’s winning 4x400 (1,600)-meter relay with teammates Timoy Malcom, Rashawn Taylor and Taylor Lane.
Thomas’ 10.76 time in the 100-meter dash set a new meet record that stood since 1981. The 21.66 time in the 200-meter dash broke his own meet record set last year.
It’s very rare for any athlete to win four state sectional gold medals. In fact, it’s not easily remembered the last time any Hudson County athlete turned the feat. And two did it on the very same day.
Thomas, the defending state champion in the 200-meter dash, said that his goal all along was to win four gold medals.
“It was what I was trying to do,” said Thomas, who did not compete in the recent Hudson County Track Coaches Association championships. “When I was able to do it, win all four, it was like a dream for me. I can’t believe I was able to do it.”
“He has the potential to do a lot of things,” Snyder head coach Ebon Myers said. “I’m not surprised with him winning four. He ran some meets outside of the county to get ready for this meet. He really needed to face the better competition. He needed that push. But it’s a very rewarding feeling to see him get to reach his potential. He’s a very coachable young man and this sets him up well [for the Meet of Champions].”
When it comes to Veras, nothing he does now should come as a shock. He’s the most versatile track and field performer in Hudson County history and proves it more and more with every passing day.
But this time, Veras added a new event to his cache of gold medals.
Dickinson head coach Leo Laboy thought that there wasn’t sufficient down time between the 110-meter hurdles and the 800-meter run, so he withdrew Veras from the shorter hurdles event, even though he was a clear cut favorite to capture the gold.
“There were the trials for the 110 [meter] hurdles, then the 800, then the finals of the hurdles,” Laboy said. “Last year, that really hurt him and he wasn’t himself after that. In the back of his mind, Jose wasn’t pushing himself last year worrying about the three races. So we pulled him out of the hurdles. He understood.”
“I wasn’t upset,” Veras said. “I knew what was going to happen. I remembered last year. When I went back to the  hurdles last year, I was dead. I had nothing.”
So instead, Laboy chose the 400-meter run as Veras’ fourth event.
“I like the 400,” Veras said. “I just don’t know how to run it.”
Veras won the 400-meter run in 48.85, to go along with his victories in the 400-meter intermediate hurdles (54.31), the 800-meter run (1:55.18) and the high jump (6 feet, six inches).
Laboy still marvels at Veras’ achievements – much like everyone else does.
“There are some times that you have a little doubt, where you say, ‘Well, maybe this time, he won’t do it,’ ” Laboy said. “You watch the race and he’s sitting like sixth and you say, ‘Oh, well.’ And then he comes out of nowhere. That’s just the way he runs. It’s always dramatic when he runs. He just keeps it close and wins at the end.”
And remarkably, he’s yet to lose a single race all season.
“He just has this natural will to win,” Laboy said. “He doesn’t get tired and he just keeps going. He turns it up and hits a second gear.”
And get this? Veras also won the 1,600-meter run at the Jersey City championships three weeks ago, proving that there really isn’t an event he can’t do.
“It’s unfortunate that he can only enter four events, because I know he could win more,” Laboy said. “It’s really amazing, watching all this happen, watching this incredible career unfold in front of you.”
Veras still doesn’t realize how he’s earned a place in local track and field history, a piece of local folklore.
“That’s what people keep telling me, but I don’t believe it,” Veras said. “I’m just lucky to do what I do. I just want to keep it going.”
Here’s another interesting point of fact. Three local products won their respective gold medals in the 400-meter run, namely Veras, Glass, and Thomas. Glass is clearly the best and fastest of the three in the event, but wouldn’t it be fun if there was some sort of match race between the three speedsters?
Certainly adds more to the debate and adds more to the excitement as well.
In any case, it was definitely a weekend to remember and now it’s on to the overall Group championships and a chance to duplicate the magic that took place last weekend.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.
You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com