NEW BETHLEHEM, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Aiden Ortz had no idea what he was doing.
The Redbank Valley junior had certainly seen long jump competitions before, but he never realized all that went into the event.
Until he tried it himself for the first time this spring.
“I just thought you ran and jumped,” Ortz said. “When I first started jumping, I didn’t know that there was a special way to land — I would just jump and however I hit the sand that’s the way I hit. Now I have a better landing and a better understanding.”
Ortz can be forgiven. He didn’t join the track and field team at Redbank until this season and intended on only running the sprinting events.
He wanted to use track as a way to improve his speed on the football field for the Bulldogs, where he was a key part of a team that went all the way to the PIAA Class A championship game this fall.
Ortz, though, eventually found his way to the long jump pit. His first jump came in at around 19 feet.
Ortz was hooked.
“I saw people jumping in the 20-, 21-, 22-foot range and I wanted to get to that point,” Ortz said. “So I just started coming to practice every day, getting my steps down right, and eventually started performing the way I am now.
“The hardest part was getting my steps down,” Ortz added, “If you don’t have the right steps, you can’t jump off the right foot and if you don’t jump off the right foot, it just feels completely different. You won’t get as far as you want to go.”
Ortz was a quick study.
It didn’t take him long to reach 20 feet. Then, at the Brookville Invitational earlier this month, Ortz broke the school record with a leap of 21-11. The previous marks was on the Redbank Valley books since 2009 and he shattered it by nearly eight inches.
At the District 9 Class 2A championships Friday, Ortz broke his own record with a jump of 21-11¼ to win the gold and advance to the PIAA Track and Field Championships in Shippensburg, which will be held this Friday and Saturday.
Ortz is seeded sixth. Less than a foot separates the top six jumpers.
Ortz believes he has as good of a shot as anyone to bring home a state title.
“I’m sixth, but the people in front of me have jumped the same distance that I do,” Ortz said. “It’s wide open.”
Ortz will also be competing in the 400-meter relay at the state meet.
The group of Ortz, Jacob Kundick, Ashton Kahle and Joe Mansfield finished second in the district with a time of 44.45 seconds.
Not bad considering Mansfield just joined the relay a day before the district championships.
“It was pretty exciting because we got together so late,” Ortz said. “We put Joe on it and just worked on handoffs all day at track practice. It was a lot of fun with those guys.”
With a whole week to run it together in practice, Ortz said he believes the relay can get much better and smoother on the handoffs.
Redbank is seeded 23rd in the event going into the weekend.
“We can go a lot faster with more practice time,” Ortz said.
Ortz is hoping to come home with two medals around his neck.
The long jump, though, is his best shot at placing.
Ortz said he is preparing like any other meet, even though he is well aware it isn’t like any other meet.
The state track meet, which is held at spacious Seth Grove Stadium on the campus of Shippensburg University, can chew up and spit out first-time competitors because of the enormity of the venue and the stakes.
Ortz said he won’t be easily intimidated because of his experience at Hersheypark Stadium this fall in the football state championship game.
“It’s gonna be a completely different atmosphere than any track meet around here. It’s gonna be a lot more exciting,” Ortz said. “But football was a crazy atmosphere. There were so many fans yelling. It’ll be like that at the state meet. I think I’ll be fine. I don’t think I’ll be nervous.”
Ortz is just amazed he is even going to the state meet at all, let alone with a chance to come home with a state title in the long jump, an event he hadn’t even thought about doing just three short months ago.
“I just did track to get faster for football, and I started breaking records,” Ortz said. “It’s pretty exciting. This isn’t the event I came out for track to do. I just fell into it. And I’m doing pretty well. It’s fun.”