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A jump of faith

  • Thursday, August 28, 2014

Eileen Keithly/South Strand News Toronto King stands holding his national standing long jump plaque with his coach at left,

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Desmond Phillips has seen hundreds of children come through the Georgetown County Parks and Recreation Department’s Hershey’s Track and Field Program.

But he has never seen an athlete come through the program with as much heart and determination as Toronto King.

King, an eighth-grade student at Carver’s Bay Middle School, represented South Carolina at the Hershey’s Track and Field North American Finals on July 29 to Aug. 3 in Hershey, Pa.

He brought home the national standing long jump title for his 13-14-year-old age group, after jumping more than 10 feet from a standing start.

“He was first in the nation,” Phillips said proudly. “When I tell you this is a good, respectful young man, I mean it.”

On Aug. 23, Phillips honored King’s accomplishment with a recognition and plaque ceremony at the Beck Recreation Center in Georgetown.

“This young man never gave up,” proclaimed Phillips. “He qualified three years in a row, and even gave up his solo spot, so that his team could compete one year.

“And then this year, he did it. He is the Hershey’s national standing long jump champion.”

King competed in the national finals three years in a row. He finished sixth in the nation in the standing long jump at the 2012 finals, and qualified to return to the event in 2013, but things took a little bit of a different turn for him.

Just before the finals in 2013, Georgia pulled their 4x100 meter relay team from the competition, opening up an opportunity for South Carolina to send a team, rather an individual, to the finals.

Speaking to a crowd of family and friends gathered after the ceremony on Aug. 23, Phillips said, “This young man had a tough decision to make last year, but it took him about five seconds to make it. He told me without hesitation that he wanted to run with his team instead of jump by himself … a selfless act for such a young man.”

King returned to the finals this year, and on Aug. 3, he jumped 10-feet-1-inch, finishing first in the competition.

U.S. Olympic champion Carl Lewis placed the first-place national medal around his neck, a moment King will never forget.

“It was pretty cool to have Carl Lewis put the medal on me,” King said. “I was just happy I could represent South Carolina and do well for everyone here, but I could never have done it without my faith and Coach Darlene.”

King was speaking of volunteer coach Darlene Priest of Georgetown. “I live in Georgetown, but I would drive out to Carver’s Bay High School to train with him,” Priest related.

“I don’t think I have ever coached an athlete like him. He just has the biggest drive and the most determination of any child I know.”

Priest got emotional recounting her time with King on the practice field and their trip to the finals.

“I can’t even put into words what I felt like when Carl Lewis put that medal around that child’s neck. It was unbelievable.”

Priest said she always knew King would be a national champion, just based on his practice ethic.

“He would be the first one at practice, the last one to leave, and sometimes, it might just be the two of us out there.”

King’s family could not be more proud of him. Grandfather Ricky Hicks said, “We couldn’t go to the finals, but my proud moment came when I found out they had chosen Toronto to carry the American flag in the opening ceremony for the whole country.”

King’s parents, father Toronto Sr., and stepmother April, say they are looking down the road and wondering what the future has in store for this remarkable young man.

“We just want him to continue on the same path and hopefully his athletic talents will afford him a college scholarship somewhere,” his father said.

King’s stepsister Caitlin was unable to attend the Aug. 23 ceremony because she was at a volleyball tournament, but his brother, De’Andre, a freshman at Carver’s Bay was present and proud of his brother’s accomplishments.

“Basketball is my sport, but what Toronto has done is great. He has really set the bar for the rest of us.”

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