One day last month, after Goddard senior Austin Chippeaux cleared a career-best 6-foot-8 in the high jump, he nearly derailed his chances of winning a Class 5A title when he was injured – playing dunk ball.
Yes, dunk ball. A game he and his friends created where a basketball goal is lowered to around 7 feet so everyone can dunk in a 3-on-3 game.
Chippeaux took a knee to the side of his right shin and for three weeks he gingerly worked to regain his form.
Friday, at the state track and field championships, Chippeaux was at full strength and won the high jump at 6-foot-6.
“This is really sweet, especially coming back from an injury mid-season,” said Chippeaux, who finished third in 2013 with a personal record of 6-6.
Chippeaux was in a different situation this season because he was the competitor everyone wanted to beat, and he felt that bull’s-eye.
“I was really nervous,” Chippeaux said. “It is supposed to be my year, everyone’s coming after me.”
But Chippeaux treated every jump the same as always, focused on his take-off spot. Then taking several deep breaths, he’d take a step back, look down and say a prayer.
Repetition calms Chippeaux’s nerves.
As prepared as he was for the state meet, the dunk ball injury set him back significantly.
When Chippeaux told jumps coach Maggie Eck about the injury, she was skeptical.
“He always likes to tease me me before a big meet,” she said. “I never believed him.”
But she saw the swelling and knew the truth.
It was a week before the Kansas Relays, and Chippeaux was devastated. He desperately wanted to compete, but he couldn’t even run.
It took three weeks of babying the injury before Chippeaux returned to jumping in competition. While he could still jump well, his form was off.
“My feet would hit (the bar), my butt would hit it,” Chippeaux said. “It was just getting back into the flow.”
He was patient with the injury and the return to form, which Eck attributes to his willingness to be coached.
About a week before Goddard’s the 5A track regional, Chippeaux was invited to play in a pickup basketball game with some friends.
Chippeaux has worked diligently to improve in the high jump, as has Eck. She knew little about the high jump when she became his coach, but after going to a Kansas State camp, Eck returned with a plan.
“I completely changed his approach,” Eck said. “ I made it closer. He was really wide before, so I made it closer, more of a tighter turn, and it got him more explosive. He never once questioned me. It was, ‘OK, let’s do this.’ ”
Chippeaux, who takes off from the left side unlike the majority of high jumpers, said he isn’t a technical jumper.
“Oh, I think he is technical,” she said. “His explosiveness is unreal. And once he gets his timing down he cleared 6-8 this year, and he could have cleared it today. His 6-6 jump would have cleared 6-10. He has it. He just has to put it all together.”
Chippeaux will have more time to hone his craft. He had committed to play football at Hutchinson Community College, but said Friday that he’s going to jump at Wichita State instead.