As they prepared to go to the NJSIAA Meet of Champions last week in South Plainfield, St. Peter’s Prep sophomore Najee Glass threw out an idea about his chances and the chances of his friend, junior Zamir Thomas of Snyder, at the state’s premier track and field event.
“Maybe we both can win,” Glass said. “How great would that be?”
At the time, it was believed that Glass and Thomas were going to have to lock horns at the Meet of Champions, running against each other in some events.
The idea that both could actually come home with gold medals was perhaps merely a pipe dream, considering that no pair of Hudson County athletes had ever before captured gold together at the M of C.
But as it turned out, the two friends and rivals didn’t have to face each other at the meet. Thomas concentrated on the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes, while Glass stuck to his best event, the 400-meter dash, giving the two Jersey City high school students the chance to create a major piece of history – which they most certainly did.
After Thomas started the event by finishing third in the 100-meter dash (no small feat in itself), Glass went into the blocks to compete in the 400-meter dash, the second event of the meet.
Glass was out to avenge some demons, namely a hip injury, that prevented him from winning the same event at the indoor Meet of Champions in Toms River in February.
“I was in Lane 3 so I could see all the competition,” Glass said. “I was a little surprised to see that Zamir was not there. I was looking forward to having him run in the 400 with me.”
Thomas knew that there wasn’t enough down time between the three events he qualified for, namely the 100, 200 and 400-meter dashes, so he decided to concentrate on the 100 and 200.
“I knew it was going to be hard to do all three,” Thomas said. “If I ran the 400, I would have been too tired to run the 200. I wanted to run my race. I knew he [Glass] would do very well [in the 400].”
Glass got out of the blocks well.
“That was my goal, to get out real quick and maintain throughout,” Glass said. “I figured that if I got out fast and caught everyone by the first 200, I could get my gold medal.”
Glass did exactly that, crossing the line in 47.65, ahead of Keith Griffith of Florence and Clayton Gravesande of Franklin. It was Gravesande who had defeated Glass at the indoor M of C, so Glass inflicted a bit of revenge on Gravesande this time around.
With the win, Glass became the first-ever runner in St. Peter’s Prep history to secure a Meet of Champions gold medal.
“It’s really an honor to be the first from Prep to win it,” Glass said. “Now, everyone in the school will know my name.”
It’s safe to say that Glass’ name is recognized far beyond the walls at Grand and Warren.
“I didn’t crack under the pressure,” Glass said. “I got the gold medal that everyone was expecting me to get.”
Then, it was Thomas’ turn to live up to his part of the bargain.
“I knew I had the guy from Long Branch [Miles Shuler-Foster] who beat me in the 100,” Thomas said. “I thought he would get out hard and I would have to catch him.”
As it turned out, Thomas blistered the field and won in 21.19, just ahead of Foster.
And when Thomas crossed the finish line in first place, Hudson County and Jersey City had its moment of history, as the pair became the first from the area to secure Meet of Champions titles in the same day.
Thomas became only the second Snyder runner to ever win at the M of C, joining distance standout Isidro Pimentel 15 years ago.
“When someone told me I was only the second one from Snyder, I said, ‘Are you serious?’” Thomas said. “That’s just unbelievable. And it’s great that Najee and I could do this together.”
“That’s all that matters,” Glass said. “We both won. I’m so proud of both of us.”
It might have begun as a rivalry between Thomas and Glass, but it has now evolved into a friendship.
“I thought it was supposed to be a kind of rivalry with each other where we had to go out and beat each other each time,” Thomas said. “But we wound up talking one day and found out that we liked each other and we became cool with each other. We became friends. Now, we’re both state champs and no one can take that away from us. It can’t change either one of us.”
Snyder coach Ebon Myers has been around the sport of track and field for decades and he recognizes the magnitude of the dual victories.
“This is something that you might see every 25 or 30 years, if then,” Myers said. “Seeing two kids from the same area win at the Meet of Champions? It’s never happened before and who knows if it will happen again.”
Myers knows that the championships of Glass and Thomas have helped to propel Hudson County track and field back to an elite status. There was a time in the ’60s and early ’70s where Hudson County and in particular, Jersey City, dominated the track and field scene. This dual performance almost represents a return to glory.
“This is the first time in a long time where we have kids from Hudson County who can compete with the entire country,” Myers said. “That’s how important these kids are. Hudson County always had some of the best track athletes. Now, we’re back in the big show. And they cheer for each other. They want each other to succeed.”
“It’s absolutely amazing,” veteran St. Peter’s Prep coach Mike Burgess said. “It’s definitely a blessing to have two kids of this magnitude from the same city.”
Both Myers and Burgess credited the athletes’ mothers for having such a positive influence on their sons. Both athletes were raised by single mothers who have monitored their success every step of the way.
“The only way you can have success is with a strong parental influence,” Myers said. “Successful champions are born from parents who truly care and these are prime examples of that. I think it’s absolutely fitting that they both won.”
“Najee comes from a great background,” Burgess said. “His mom was an athlete and she is the one who got him involved in track. When she brought him to Prep, he believed in the Prep tradition and worked very hard from the beginning.”
The two champions came together last week for a photo shoot. It was raining. There wasn’t going to be a workout that day. The track at Lincoln Park was empty.
But the aura of being a state champion still remained a few days after the victory.
“People are coming up to me, asking me what it’s like,” Thomas said. “Hey, we came back to Hudson County, to Jersey City with gold medals from the Meet of Champions. We’ll always have that to talk about together.”
“I still can’t believe it,” Glass said. “I’m so glad that I finally got the title. It’s fitting that we both won. That’s what I was hoping for.”
Working toward the future
Glass has been extremely busy since his championship, trying to juggle football workouts with his track regimen.
“It’s not difficult at all,” Glass said. “After football, I go straight to track. I have the endurance. I’m not tired.”
Glass will be a safety, receiver and kick returner for the Marauders in the fall. Before he thinks about football, he will head to Singapore in August to compete in the World Junior Olympics (ages 16 to 18), representing the United States. Glass is being sponsored by the United States Olympic Committee. He’s well on his way to gaining national recognition.
Next weekend, both Glass and Thomas will head to the New Balance National Track and Field Championships at North Carolina A&T in Greensboro. Glass will run in the elite 400 meters and the emerging 200 meters, because he’s still only 15 years old and a sophomore.
“I still have two more years of this,” Glass said.
Thomas, a year older, won the 200-meter dash at the same event last year. He holds the meet record (21.4) and wants better this year.
“I’m hoping for 20.85,” Thomas said.
In the meantime, Thomas has been receiving letters and recognition from major colleges. He is taking his Scholastic Aptitude Tests this weekend in pursuit of another goal.
“I really would love to go to Texas A&M,” Thomas said. “I know Najee likes it there, too. It would be great to be on a team with him.”
But come next winter, the two will become rivals again. The friendship gets tossed aside on the track.
“We’re going to be going at it again, you can be sure of that,” Thomas said. “It is going to be my senior year. I’m going all out for everything.”
Burgess knows that his budding superstar is just scratching the surface.
“It’s an honor to have a kid of that magnitude in our program, but he’s still raw and still learning,” Burgess said. “The scary part is that he’s only 15 years old. Once he starts to fill out, develop and mature, I can’t imagine what he can do.
Added Burgess, “And the competition between the two of them is healthy. They push each other. They feed off each other. There’s a lot of mutual respect. When they’re both in the same event, it’s like having two titans, two heavyweight champions, two thoroughbreds. It’s like who are you going to pick, Zamir or Najee? It’s a beautiful thing that they both will be back. I think everyone is already waiting for next year. It’s exciting.”
It’s like Ali and Frazier, only without the bad blood. It’s like Affirmed against Alydar, although in human form.
But when Zamir Thomas and Najee Glass do meet again on a track, one thing is for sure. It will be a meeting of champions, state champions, both from the same geographic area, a region called Hudson County and a city called Jersey City. It’s truly a remarkable and historic feat, one for the ages.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.