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STILL SOARING: Union Senior Hayden Smith Breaks Facility Record at Youngstown State During His First Indoor High Jump Season With Clarion Comets

RIMERSBURG, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Hayden Smith raised his arms over his head and clapped his hands three times before taking off on his approach.

With long strides, he arrived at his launch point, sprang into the air, arched his back, and soared over the bar before hitting the mat.

It was no ordinary high jump for Smith, a senior at Union High School. It was another achievement in a long list of them for the standout.

(Pictured above, Hayden Smith gets the crowd clapping before his record-setting high jump at Youngstown State University/photo by Matt Lerch)

Smith easily cleared 6 feet, 8¼ inches on that textbook jump to set the Youngstown State facility record at the YSU High School Meet No. 4 on Saturday to cap the indoor track and field season for the Clarion Comets.

“I really wanted the meet record that day,” Smith said. “I was bound and determined to get it because it was the last meet they had there. So I was like, ‘I really need to get this.’ That was one thing I was really determined to get. And I knew if I got the meet record, I would be a position to go higher nationally, too.

“I was really pumped. I had a really good attempt at 6-11, but I hit my arm on the bar.”

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Smith is no stranger to major accomplishment in the event.

He’s a two-time PIAA Class 2A champion for the Union/A-C Valley track and field team, winning as a sophomore with a jump of 6-5 and again last May at Shippensburg University, clearing 6-8 as a junior.

In June, he was tied for second at the Nike Outdoor Nationals in Oregon. He then won his second consecutive AAU Junior Olympic Games national championship in August at Drake University with an effort of 6-10¾.

Never, though, had Smith competed during the indoor season.

Until this winter.

“Every year, I learn something new about the sport. I never knew I could do it,” Smith said, chuckling. “I noticed (Clarion Area junior) Brenna Armstrong was with (the Clarion Comets). I thought it would be great to get some jumps in before outdoor season. So I was like, ‘Let’s reach out.’”

Smith did and joined the team.

(Hayden Smith clears the bar on his record-setting high jump at YSU/photo by Matt Lerch)

Also a basketball player at Union, Smith faced a time crunch. He competed in only three meets this season with the Comets, but certainly made the most of them.

He won at Youngstown State in his debut in early January at 6-6 in the first high school meet there of the season.

Smith followed that up with another 6-6 at SPIRE institute on Jan. 26 at the Ohio Preview Meet 2024.

Then on Saturday he saved his best for last.

Smith said it wasn’t always easy competing during indoor track and field season while also playing basketball as a starting guard for the playoff-bound Golden Knights, but it was well worth it.

“It’s a little challenging because you’re all wore out, but I only went to three meets,” Smith said. “I qualified for indoor states, too. It’s all divisions, so that’s something I’m really excited about.”

That meet is Sunday in State College.

“It’s every division competing against each other,” Smith said. “That’s one thing I’m really excited about.”

Smith also plans on competing at the Adidas Indoor Nationals in Virginia Beach. That meet begins on March 15.

Smith decided if he was going to compete this indoor season — his first and final campaign — he was going to go all-out.

It got him noticed.

The video of his record-breaking high jump at Youngstown State went viral on social media. It drew the attention of several Division I college coaches.

That hasn’t made deciding on his future any easier.

Smith admitted it has been a very overwhelming recruiting process. He knows he has to decide soon.

“It’s hard,” he said. “I never thought something would be this hard.”

Through it all, Smith never had a thought of quitting basketball.

There was an inherent risk there. Even a moderate injury could derail his plans in the high jump this spring. But Smith put that out of his mind because of an experience he had as a sophomore.

Smith has battled anxiety and depression for much of his life. Two years ago, it became so debilitating that he left the basketball team before the season was over. He regretted it, not just mentally, but physically.

It set him back during the track and field season.

“I gave out the last bit of the season and it showed during track,” he said. “I was so out of shape. I use it to stay in shape, but I also love seeing my friends every day. That’s another big part.”

Smith has dealt effectively with his anxiety and depression. It no longer controls him. The high jump has helped him conquer and cope.

Now, he is going to take another aim at a milestone he’s been trying to reach for three years.

“I really want to get that 7-foot barrier,” Smith said. “For three years I’ve been trying to do that. I think I got the key adjustment to get it.”

That change came in the week leading up to the AAU Junior Olympic Games.

His Union/A-C Valley jumping coach, Dave Sherman, noticed something on the videos of his competition in Oregon.

“Last summer when I went out to Drake, we had a week to practice and coach Sherman said, ‘You know, in Oregon I was looking at your videos and I think you’re too close to the bar coming in. That’s not allowing your hips to get up on plane on time.’ We practiced that the whole week, and we got my steps back a little bit, where they should have been. If we would have had more time, it would have made a huge difference at Drake. Huge. It was my best meet ever.”

Smith hasn’t been able to try the new steps during indoor season.

When outdoor rolls around, though, Smith is eager to see what the change can produce.

“I’m so excited,” Smith said. “I can’t wait to get out there and see what I can do.”

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Redbank Valley, Keystone, and Union/A-C Valley sports coverage on Explore and is brought to you by Heeter Lumber.