Student Athletes Compete at Elite International Level
Champion Allison And Jayson Baldridge Are In The Running For Track And Field Prominence
By Mara Soloway
While most high school athletes don’t get much opportunity to be international goodwill ambassadors, George Ranch High School seniors Champion Allison and Jayson Baldridge were among the top athletes recently invited to a country where few Americans have been for six decades. The teens competed against the top young Cuban athletes in the Caribbean Scholastic Invitational held in Havana’s Estadio Panamericano in May. They were part of Team NSAF (National Scholastic Athletes Foundation), which consisted of 28 of the nation’s best high-school-aged track and field athletes. The invitational was held in conjunction with the annual Barrientos Memorial, a long-running elite-level invitational that moved to Havana this year from Puerto Rico.
At the event, Allison placed third in the 200 meters and first in the 4 x 400-meter relay. Baldridge says he did all right. “I had to make the transition from 300-meter hurdles to 400-meter hurdles. I have done 400-meter hurdles before, but it was my first time doing them this season, so I was kind of rusty. I got second in those and helped win the 4 x 400-meter relay.”
Each athlete came away from Cuba with a broader world view.
“I was very happy that I was one of the first Americans to go there after so long,” Allison said. “Cuba taught me to be grateful for what I have because so many kids aren’t as privileged as me.”
Baldridge feels that all in all it was a fantastic experience, “getting to see other parts of the world doing what I love. We were able to go sightseeing in Old Havana. The people were excited to see Americans. They showed us around and gave us some memories that will last forever.”
The event in Cuba came after each athlete fulfilled their dream of being a state champion. Allison and Baldridge started the summer with gold medal performances at the State UIL Track and Field Meet also held in May. Allison won the 400-meter dash and Baldridge the 300-meter hurdles.
In June Allison set several personal best times at the New Balance Nationals Outdoor: 46.40 seconds in the 400 meters; his times of 20.71 in the 200 meters and 10.44 in the 100 meters earned him first place in both races. Baldridge set a personal best of 53.54 seconds in the 400- meter hurdles at the New Balance event. His personal best time for the 300-meter hurdles is 36.32 seconds, which is currently No. 1 in the country.
Head track coach Todd Dutch has worked with Allison and Baldridge since they were in 10th grade. “When I met them and saw them run, I said they both have something special. Just looking at how they ran, I knew they would be transformed into elite runners. It was just going to take time. And time was on our side.”
Dutch has helped the teens understand sportsmanship. “In order to be the best you can be in this sport, you need great training partners to keep you honest and accountable. With both of them being so good in their respective events, they both had to understand that you don’t have to run each other to the ground in order to be successful. Although they are both very competitive, they know when to be and when not to be. That’s the best part of their friendship and their partnership,” he said.
Dutch has deeply impacted both athletes. Allison thinks he is the best coach in Texas. “He sticks with you through anything, and he is not scared to get on you if you need it. He inspires me to do good things and become a very successful young man.”
Baldridge said the coach has always believed in him. “Ever since he came to George Ranch, he would always tell me I’m going to be a state champion, and that really helped me with my confidence.”
Both 17-year-olds have been runners since grade school: Allison since sixth grade and Baldridge since fourth. Assistant coach Jason Thompson has worked with them since he was their coach in seventh grade at Reading Junior High School. His long-term relationship with the teens means he has seen the growth from where they were six years ago to where they are now.
“They are both progressing each year. Just since last year, they have both made tremendous gains. Every time they run, they run faster and faster, and we have to keep updating their personal record times because they keep breaking them,” Thompson said.
College scholarships seem likely for the friends. Allison sees himself studying sports medicine; Baldridge plans on studying physical therapy. Dutch sees both of their futures as bright and limitless. “They both are going to be full-scholarship athletes. They just have to pick the school that is the best fit. I look forward to seeing them graduate from college,” he said. “I tell them all the time your degree lasts longer than your athletic career. Focus on athletics but mainly focus on getting your degree. That’s most important to me.”
Both have competed in other sports but have narrowed their focus to track for senior year. Allison used to play football. Baldridge stopped playing basketball after his freshman year and quit football after being the starting free safety on the George Ranch team that won Class 5A Division I championship in the 2015-16 school year.
Their coaches inspire them and so do family members. Allison says his father “is the reason I am here today. He picks me up when down and is always there for me. I love my father with all my heart.”
Baldridge reflects, “I always thank God for putting me in the position that I’m in. All of this wouldn’t be happening without him. And also my mother, who pushes me to become a better man everyday. I can’t thank her enough for that.”
The 2016 Olympic Games are attracting worldwide attention this summer. Between now and the 2020 games, Allison and Baldridge will be on their way to graduating from college and will have run many races in the meantime. When the 2020 games begin, watch out for these track and field athletes. They already have experience in international competition. Coaches Dutch and Thompson both know the teens are Olympic material. “I see both of them trying out for the Olympics in 2020. They are just that good,” Dutch said. The Olympics would be a rightful place for these elite-level athletes to be in the running.