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Griffith Would Like to Carry On Tradition

Track: With an aunt who holds world records, Trabuco Hills jumper feels outstanding marks are within her reach.

April 24, 1998|DAN ARRITT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Darnesha Griffith has the goals, potential and genes to become one of best track and field athletes in the state.

Griffith, the niece of Olympic medal-winner Florence Griffith-Joyner, already has posted the county's top mark this season in two events--the long jump (18 feet 8 1/4 inches) and the triple jump (38-10). She has the second-best mark in the high jump (5-6).

On Saturday, Griffith plans to compete in an unprecedented two meets, the Orange County Championships at Trabuco Hills High during the day and the Arcadia Invitational that evening. She said she wouldn't be surprised if she was able to improve on some of her marks.

"I want to go 19 feet in the long jump [Saturday]," said Griffith, who cleared 5-11 in a high jump practice last season. "I'm going to really focus on the long jump and high jump because I won't have to triple jump until [Arcadia]."

Trabuco Hills Coach Jack Recla thinks those goals are possible and could become routine if Griffith would only push herself more.

"The big thing with Darnesha is just getting her to work out and to work hard," Recla said. "She's got so much ability it's incredible.

"But when she gets to college and sees that somebody is investing in her as an athlete, there aren't going to be days when you can just say, 'I'm not going to do it,' because they're going to say, 'See ya.' "

Griffith doesn't need to look far to find someone with a solid work ethic. She lives above Lake Mission Viejo with her aunt, the world record holder in the 100 and 200 meters, and uncle, Al Joyner, Florence's coach and a fitness trainer, and 1984 Olympic triple jump gold medalist.

Darnesha often runs around the lake with Florence, and she experienced a few of Al's high-intensity workouts at UC Irvine last summer.

"I like living with them, it's fun," Darnesha said. "I get a lot of workouts with them."

From sixth through 10th grade, Darnesha lived with her grandmother in Mission Viejo. She moved to Vacaville to be with her mother her junior year, but after visiting her aunt last July, when she got in touch with some old friends, she asked to return to Trabuco Hills for her senior year.

"We were real happy about that," said Emily Cervantes, one of Griffith's teammates at Trabuco Hills. "It's just nice to know that you have someone who's been to championships on your team because then you know it's possible and you can get there too."

However, Griffith said, the decision was unpopular in Vacaville, where her teammates begged her to remain. She placed sixth in the triple jump at last year's state finals.

"I told them I was just coming here to visit," Griffith said. "I didn't know I was going to stay."

When Griffith plants her heels in the sandy triple jump box Saturday night at Arcadia High, she'll be capping an extraordinary day in high school track and field.

Griffith plans to take advantage of a one-time decision by the Southern Section that will allow athletes to compete in two meets on the same day.

This waiver was granted last week because the Arcadia Invitational, which was rained out April 11, was rescheduled for Saturday--the same day as the county championships.

Griffith will compete in the long jump, high jump and 400-meter relay at Trabuco Hills, then drive 90 minutes to Arcadia for the triple jump competition.

"I like doing a lot of events," she said. "I'm looking forward to it."

A few coaches and parents have expressed concern that the section's ruling will subject athletes to overexertion. The section forbids athletes from participating in more than four events in a single meet, but if two meets are allowed in one day, an athlete can compete in as many as eight events.

"I got a call from one parent in Orange County who was really upset that we would allow anyone to compete in two meets," Southern Section Commissioner Dean Crowley said, "but the bottom line is the responsibility lies with the coaches."

Shad Vickers, coach of the second-ranked Tustin boys' team, isn't any sending any of his athletes, including sprinters DeShaun Foster and Julius Williams and long jumper Dante Maxey, to Arcadia. Instead, he's having them concentrate on defending the Tillers' county championship.

"The four-event rule was put there for a reason," Esperanza Coach Al Britt said. "It's to keep athletes from being run into the ground."

Athletes from El Modena, including the county's top boys' high jumper, Santosh Swamidass, and members of the ninth-ranked girls' team also will pass on Arcadia.

"Santosh and I talked about it, but we didn't want to risk it," El Modena Coach Ahearn said. "The rule is a good one and you have to respect it, even though it's tempting [to compete twice] this time of year."

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