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Jumper is teaching himself to soar

idway through the 2000 track and field season at a meet in New Port Richey, then-Seven Rivers Christian coach Phil Gelston turned to long jumper Shawn Allen and said, "Hey, go high jump, you're slender."

Allen, though mildly surprised at the request, did.

"I was scared out of my mind," Allen said.

Amazing what you can do when you're scared.

On Allen's first jump, he cleared 5 feet, 2 inches with relative ease. After a few misses, he then cleared 5-8 to finish sixth.

Before that day, he had never high jumped in his life.

He guessed at what to do. "I saw what the other guys were doing and my coach was like, "Look, when you jump, throw your back over and flip your legs over the bar,' " Allen said. "I was afraid of hitting the bar because it looked like it hurt."

Two months later, Allen jumped 6-4 to finish second at the Class A state meet in Gainesville. This, after jumping 6-4 and 6-0 in back-to-back meets prior to state.

"I had been jumping for only a month and a half," Allen said.

Today, Allen, a 6-foot-2{ junior, is one of the premier high jumpers in Florida. Twice this season, he has cleared 6-4, and in another meet he stopped at 6-0 because it was too cold to continue jumping.

"I'm way ahead of where I was last year (at this time)," Allen said.

Allen's success is nothing short of amazing. The Warriors have a roster of four, so small that they actually practice at Lecanto alongside the Panthers.

His only real tutelage came last year from a Lecanto coach whose name, you'll have to forgive him, he cannot remember.

"He basically told me what I should look like and how I should arch my back," Allen said. "From then on, I picked it up myself."

Most of Allen's coaching comes from books. A coaches manual taught him the finer points of the Fosbury Flop, the technique most jumpers use.

From that publication, he learned how to measure his steps using, of all things, the Pythagorean theorem.

Other assistance has come from a physics teacher at Seven Rivers Christian, who is helping Allen locate his center of gravity during jumps.

"I've learned how my feet should be when I take off and how I should go through the air," Allen said. "'And I just bought a book with a workout program in it called Jump Attack. It's supposed to help you increase your vertical jump by as much as 14 inches."

Allen knows that he has a legitimate chance of winning the school's first state title. The athlete who edged him by 2 inches to win last year's title graduated, making Allen one of the favorites.

"I'd love to give (Seven Rivers) that first state title," Allen said. "I think about how much recognition the school would receive, but I really try to focus on what's in the near future and take things one step at a time.

"I do get anxious, though. I have dreams about it."

Allen is confident in his ability and in his chances.

One thing he is not, is cocky.

He remembers his beginnings, and being scared. And he knows that a jumper is only as good as his last attempt.

"Wednesday at practice, I jumped 5-8 three times and didn't clear it," Allen said. "Every once in a while I get a wake-up call. It's God saying, "Be humble about yourself.' "

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