Although he participated in track and field when he was in eighth grade at Jersey City’s P.S. 24 two years ago, Zamir Thomas wasn’t interested in running around a track when he enrolled at Snyder High School.
Thomas was more interested in running around the base paths. He wanted to be a baseball player.
“I just wanted to try something new and different,” said Thomas, now a sophomore at Snyder. “I liked running track, but I wanted to try baseball. I never played baseball before.”
However, when Snyder track coach Anthony Campbell saw Thomas run for the first time, he was determined to make sure the kid saw nothing of the diamond. After all, Campbell was a track superstar during his heyday at Snyder, graduating in 1997, then later running track at New Jersey City University.
“I wanted to make sure that my alma mater had a strong track program,” said Campbell, who set several records during his days at Snyder. “I saw that the kid had great potential. I figured he had to be a runner. I knew he wanted to play baseball, but he had too much talent as a runner.”
So Campbell used an enticement to get Thomas interested in track. He took Thomas to the Penn Relays in Philadelphia, the granddaddy of all track meets.
“I wanted to see how much he would like it,” Campbell said. “Now, he loves it.”
“When I first saw it at that level,” Thomas said, “I knew I wanted to do it. I was very impressed.”
At that point, the baseball career became history. Thomas was a runner.
It has turned out to be the best thing to ever leave the baseball field.
Thomas has been downright brilliant since he turned his full-time attention towards running. Last year, he ran a 23-second 200-meter dash in his first indoor meet.
“And he didn’t have any training,” Campbell said. “He’s just naturally talented.”
The brilliance has continued into Thomas’ second season as Tiger runner.
“He was running 53 [second] quarters [400-meters] last year,” Campbell said. “Now he’s running 50. He’s dropped three seconds from last year and that’s amazing. And at first, he didn’t like running the 400.”
Thomas said that he had a feeling that he was always fleet afoot.
“I always thought I was fast,” Thomas said. “I just didn’t know how fast.”
Last week, at the HCIAA indoor championships at the Jersey City Armory, Thomas got a chance to realize just how fast he really is.
Thomas became the first Snyder athlete to earn three gold medals at the HCIAA meet since a fellow named Anthony Campbell did more than a decade ago.
Thomas won the 55-meter dash in 6.5 seconds, took the 400-meter dash in 51.6 seconds and ran one of the legs in the Snyder 1,600-meter relay that also won in 3:32.3, running his leg in 50.9.
For his efforts, Thomas has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
“My confidence is pretty high right now,” said Thomas, who will head to the NJSIAA Group II meet this weekend with the hope of winning state gold medals as well. Thomas was part of the relay team that won a Group II title in the 1,600-meter relay earlier this month.
Veteran track people, like Snyder Principal Larry Odoms, a long-time track coach, believe that Thomas can evolve into a top-flight sprinter, a lot like his current coach Campbell.
Even Campbell himself has to agree.
“By the time he’s a senior, he’s going to go anywhere he wants,” Campbell said. “The sky’s the limit. College coaches ask about him now and he’s just a sophomore. He’s going to get bigger, stronger and faster. Mr. Odoms said that my records at Snyder are about to go out the window. I wouldn’t be mad. Records are made to be broken.”
It helps that Campbell is still an active runner and trains regularly with Thomas.
“He’s been a really big help,” Thomas said. “He’s always advising me and pushing me. I wasn’t aware that he was such a good runner in high school, but I’m trying to beat him all the time. But it’s a nice feeling to know that people think I can be better than Coach Campbell one day.”
“He’s not there yet,” Campbell laughed. “His goal is to beat me, but he can’t yet.”
Campbell is still running competitively and cracked a 47.7 400-meter recently at a meet at the New York Armory recently. “But it’s great that this kid is doing what he’s doing. He’s put Snyder on the map again. I told him that if he wanted to be the best, he had to train with the best. If he listens, pays attention and trains hard, who knows what this kid can do?”
Thomas is currently ranked as the No. 3 runner in the state in the 200-meter dash, an event that he has qualified for the United States High School Nationals March 13-15 at the New York Armory.
In the spring, Thomas will run the 100, 200 and 400-meter dashes, as well as the long jump. His best performances could very well be ahead of him.
“I am a little surprised with how well I’ve done already,” Thomas said. “I didn’t expect to do this well this soon, not at all.”
So it’s safe to say that Thomas made the right choice in sticking to track and field.
“I guess I made the right choice in not playing baseball,” Thomas said.
Sure looks that way. – Jim Hague