MANATEE -- On a table in Joy Norman's bedroom, there is a stack of letters about three or four inches high from college coaches interested in bringing the Florida Class 2A champion high jumper to their track and field programs.
Not one has been opened.
Norman doesn't really view herself as a high jumper.
The Herald All-Area Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year still prefers basketball, the sport she's played for most of her life. She nearly even chose to skip out on her senior year of jumping for Bayshore and needed a tug from a coach to convince her.
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"I like basketball, to be honest," said Norman, who will play basketball for NAIA Paul Quinn College in the winter. "I didn't really want to continue track."
She didn't even begin competing in the high jump until her sophomore year. Until a friend told her to try track and field, she had focused all of her attention on basketball. But during her first year in the field, she was a district champion and made it to the region final. As a junior, she qualified for the state championship for the first time.
It was a damp and rainy day on the campus of North Florida in Jacksonville, and Norman first jumped 5 feet, 6 inches. In the final, however, she couldn't get past 5 feet, 4 inches. Hallandale's Edquisha Alvin won the state title with a 5-foot-7 jump
in the final.
"We actually thought she had a chance of winning it last year," Bayshore head coach Kim Cook said. "This year, it was a vengeance."
Once again, though, she needed a push. Assistant coach Jamaal Sanders, also Norman's head coach on the Bruins basketball team, gave her forceful shove.
"You have to get a state title this year," he told Norman.
The main reason Norman prefers basketball to track and field is the team element and high jumping's lack thereof. During her first season in the field Norman was shy during competition, a deficiency stemming from the unusual nature of the sport for Norman. She was in front of the horizontal bar all alone. It threw her off.
Even as she was jumping high enough that college coaches came calling and BHS records started tumbling, she never felt a particular attraction to the sport. Basketball still came first. And so the interested coaches were shunned, inquiries unanswered.
"I like playing on a team," Norman said. "I like benefiting a team and playing with people who enjoy the sport. I don't really like doing stuff individually. It's just weird."
Yet she still decided to come back for her senior season on the condition that she would win a state title. She focused on plyometrics and weight lifting, trying to add crucial extra inches to her leap that would make her final year in the field worth the return.
She first hit 5-8 during a meet at Out-of-Door Academy. During the state meet on May 1 at Hodges Stadium in Jacksonville, that mark was good enough for a tie with Miami Jackson's Tiara McMinn in the final, creating the need for a jump-off.
First the bar went up to 5 feet, 10 inches. McMinn couldn't clear it, but neither could Norman. She got her entire body over once, but pushed down on the bar with her hand.
"Technical stuff," Cook said. She thinks Norman can clear 6 feet and Norman thinks she's had some good enough jumps on lower heights which would have let her clear a 6-foot bar.
When the bar came down to 5 feet, 9 inches, Norman was first to jump. She didn't know what her opponent would do, so she had to clear it. "I wasn't gonna lose," she said she thought. She leapt and twisted her body over the bar. A new personal best put the pressure on McMinn, who couldn't get over.
"I almost had a heart attack," Cook said.
Norman celebrated, too, although the extra bit of attention still didn't push her to one of the Division I schools she could have attended as a jumper. Basketball was still all that mattered to her.
During one of her first days on campus at Bayshore, she sought out Sanders. Norman knew she had a unique talent and even though freshmen don't typically play on the Bruins varsity basketball team, she hoped she could sway Sanders. They went into the gym, and Norman leapt to touch the backboard.
She can dunk a tennis ball and the only reason she can't slam a basketball through the hoop is because she can't grip it with one hand. As a 5-9 senior, the forward averaged more than 17 points and used her unparalleled leaping ability to corral nearly 10 rebounds and two blocks each games. For her career at BHS, she averaged a double-double with 14.8 points and 10.1 rebounds, even has her performance in the field outpaced her ability on the court.
"That's all her goal was," Cook said, "a state championship."
And now she can carry on with another dream.
MANATEE -- O'Neesha Shaw, sr.; Jacquelynn Armer, jr.
LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Sophia Falco, soph.; Reide Ryans, jr.; Olivia Ogles, jr.; Talia Falco, sr.
PALMETTO -- Jada Massie, sr.; Jermisha Collins, sr.; Elizabeth Atkinson, soph.
SOUTHEAST -- Johnelle Clark, jr.
BAYSHORE -- Alexus Norman, soph.
SAINT STEPHEN'S -- Janae Murrell, sr.; Paige Lindsay, sr.; Kaitlyn Siegel, jr.