Parker Dunaway is a state champion triple jumper without a regulation-sized pit to practice in.
Imagine a basketball player with half a court, or a rim and no net, a quarterback with a football and only 30 yards to play on, or a forward in hockey or soccer without a court or field.
The lack of practice facilities is just one of the challenges Dunaway, a sophomore at Heritage Academy, faced Friday as he competed in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools overall state track meet. His school doesn”t have a track and utilizes limited equipment to practice field events, including a long jump pit that is about half the size it needs to be.
“I just had to get out there and do my best,” he said. “I didn”t have much practice.”
Not only did this week”s Dispatch Prep Player of the Week, a four-sport standout and honor roll student, overcome a lack of facilities to better his Class AAA triple jump competition, but Dunaway also placed fifth in the long jump. One day earlier, he went 2-for-5, drove in a run, and stole four bases in a baseball doubleheader against Jackson Academy.
“His competitiveness is something I wish all of our players had,” said Dunaway”s baseball coach, Bruce Branch. “He”s a guy that is determined to find a way to get on or get that big hit.”
Parker is accustomed to being busy. He spends the fall playing receiver and defensive back for the Heritage Academy football team. Later in the year, he adds basketball — he is a shooting guard — to his to-do list. Baseball and track and field are his winter/spring sports. While the two overlap, Dunaway said this school year, track meets and baseball games didn”t fall on the same day, forcing him to make tough decisions.
“It definitely keeps me busy,” said Dunaway, who has balanced four sports since the seventh grade.
How does he do it all?
“It”s really hard to balance my academics while playing four sports,” Dunaway, 16, said. “But my teachers help me out a lot and I have a lot of assistance from my mom.”
Parker”s idea of triple jump practice? Track meets. It”s his best opportunity to work on his craft.
“It makes it all the more special,” Dunaway said.
His Thursday night in left field ended around 10 p.m. He was in bed an hour later and at 6 a.m. Friday he departed for the state track meet in Jackson, sleeping on the back seat as his parents drove. Dunaway said his legs were still sore when the long jump competition started at 10 a.m. He finished with a best of 21 feet, 4 inches.
As the day progressed, he regained his energy and soared to a triple jump of 43-11 1/4. After falling to second after his fifth attempt, Dunaway made his winning jump on his sixth and final attempt.
“Baseball consumes a lot of his time,” said Greg Sykes, Dunaway”s track and field coach. “But he”s such an athlete he can come out, show up at a meet with a little bit of work during the week, and have numbers like he did Friday.”
A shiny gold medal he hangs on the rear view mirror in his truck. It”s there for any teammates and classmates to see.
Well, at least it was.
“My mom is probably going to make me give it to her now after hearing that,” Dunaway said. “I don”t know what she”s going to want to do with it.”
Sorry about that Parker.
“Nah, don”t worry about that,” he said. “She would have found it eventually.”
Three sports down, one to go. All that”s left is baseball where the Patriots, the top seed in Class AAA, Division II, will play today at Copiah Academy in game one of a best-of-three series.
“I feel very confident with our chances,” Dunaway said. “We got a little momentum on Thursday night, so we”re starting to play like Heritage Academy again, so we feel good about our chances.”