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PCA’s Cassell taking leap at Junior Olympic gold

[7/30/04]Over the course of his high school career, Allen Cassell has established himself as one of the best high jumpers in Mississippi. This weekend, he’ll get a chance to see how he stacks up against the rest of the country.

Cassell, a Porters Chapel Academy senior, will compete in the young men’s high jump at the USA Track and Field National Junior Olympics in Eugene, Ore. Cassell was to jump in the preliminary rounds this morning.

“I’m looking forward to it, because I want to see if this will push me to my full potential,” said Cassell, who won his second Mississippi Private Schools Association Class A state title in May. “I’m not going in there looking to win. I’m going in there hoping for a personal best.”

If Cassell does surpass his personal best, he might stand a chance of winning. He jumped 6 feet, 8 inches at this year’s MPSA South State meet, then cleared 6-5 a week later at the state meet. It was his second state title in three years, matching the one he won in 2002.

This summer, Cassell has tried his hand on the national level. He qualified for the Junior Olympics by jumping 6-4 3/4 at a regional qualifying meet in Jackson earlier this month. That was good for third place, and a trip to Eugene. It was also the 12th-highest qualifying height among the 44 jumpers at the Junior Olympics.

In Oregon, he’ll be part of a rare breed of athletes.

Unlike most elite track and field athletes, Cassell is not affiliated with a team. He was the only unattached high jumper at the regional meet and one of only nine at the Junior Olympics and has had little coaching since he started jumping as a seventh-grader at Chamberlain-Hunt.

“I’m the only person high jumping that’s unattached,” Cassell said. “The closest track league is in Natchez, and that’s too far. It’s hard to be up on the latest news.”

To prepare for the meet, Cassell received permission from Alcorn State track coach Aleshia Shields to use the school’s track facilities. He has also gotten pointers from former Alcorn high jumper Johnny Walker.

The commute from Vicksburg to Lorman has been draining, but Cassell said it was worth it.

“It was a hassle, but it was the only thing I could. I had no other options,” Cassell said.

Cassell is hoping this weekend will be a springboard for more opportunities next year.

“I’ll be a senior this year, and maybe this could open some eyes and get some coaches to see if they can work with me,” he said, adding that he’ll find out quickly this weekend whether he can compete on the next level. “It’s going to be a big shock.”