By Connor Beach
Many high school athletes dream of reaching the pinnacle of their respective sports by winning a state championship. For Walt Whitman High School junior Jack Poplawski, the dream became a reality last month when he was crowned the state champion in the pentathlon.
Poplawski’s road to the state title required that he master each of the five separate track and field events that make up the pentathlon, a journey the 17-year-old said began during his freshman year at Whitman when he joined the track team to stay in shape for volleyball.
Poplawski, who said he’s always been a “decent runner,” discovered he had some natural talent when it came to jumping.
“My coach was seeing all the pentathlon results, and we decided next year we were going to train for that,” Poplawski said.
With some success in the 1,500-meter run, the long jump and the high jump, Poplawski said he needed to learn the shot put and 110-meter hurdles, the other two events that round out the pentathlon.
“The hurdles were difficult at first, and going into sophomore year I really didn’t want to run hurdles,” Poplawski said. “I had a lot to learn and a lot to learn quickly.”
If the hurdles was the hardest event for Poplawski, then the shot put and long jump are the most fun.
“They’re just fun events to do… They’re both similarly just controlled aggression,” he said.
Last year, Poplawski achieved a top-five finish at states.
The performance had him “hungry to win the state championship” this time around, when he traveled to upstate Cicero-North High School for the June 8-9 state meet. He had one goal in mind: Win it all.
After a personal best 15.76 seconds in the 110-meter hurdles, a 5 feet, 11 inches jump in the high jump and a throw of 43 feet, 5 inches in the shot put, Poplawski found himself sitting atop the leaderboard and the end of the first day of competition.
Poplawski said he “felt good” going into the second day with two of his best events, the 1,500-meter run and the long jump still to come. He topped the field of 26 competitors in the long jump with a jump of 21 feet 11 inches, and posted a personal best 4:29.58 in the 1500-meter to secure the state title.
“It felt really good to just leave it all out on the track and have so many personal bests come together at one time,” Poplawski said.
Poplawski credits his coaches, including varsity track coach Rob Conroy, for keeping him disciplined and focused, while also making the season fun.
With a state championship in the pentathlon now under his belt, Poplawski said he plans on competing in the decathlon next year. The challenge of mastering five more events is sure to keep him busy as he tries for another shot at a state title in his senior year.