Johnson C. Smith University has the distinction of being the only HBCU to host NCAA Track & Field championships – first in 2007 and again in 2010.
On Thursday, the Division II championships will return to JCSU’s Irwin Belk Complex, where more than 800 student-athletes from around the nation will gather to compete. The competition ends Saturday.
Two of those student-athletes — Kianje Pollard from Penns Grove, N.J., and Timor Barrett from St. Catherine, Jamaica — will compete in the 400-meter hurdles for JCSU. Each qualified for the NCAA Championships early in the season and is hoping to turn home-field advantage into a track and field victory.
Class: Senior | Major: Biology | Height: 5-9 | Best Time: 59.2
Kianje Pollard said it’s hard to recall a time when she wasn’t a runner. Growing up in New Jersey, she and her friends would race around the block. Pollard would always win. Soon, her mother took notice and enrolled her in track. In high school, thanks to a persistent coach, she began to learn the discipline it takes to run competitively.
“That first year was really hard,” she said. “After that, I kept getting better and better. I was winning state championships, and we were going to the nationals.”
After high school, she ran for Iowa Western Community College then transferred to JCSU in her junior year. Trained as a sprinter, she had never competed in the hurdles until she came to Charlotte.
Pollard said she likes the individual nature of track and field. “You can focus more on yourself,” she said. “You have the team effort, but it shapes me to focus on myself and my craft.”
As her JCSU running career winds down, Pollard said she is taking a wait-and-see approach to what comes next. (Her best time this year was 59.2.)
“Some people are recommending that I should try and go further with it, but I’m just going to take it one step at a time,” she said. “I think it depends on how I do at this next game.”
Class: Freshman | Major: Sports Management | Height: 6-0 | Best Time: 50.8
Timor Barrett is on a mission – he wants to compete in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Getting there, he knows, will not be easy.
It’s a goal Barrett and his former high school coach set when the JCSU freshman was preparing to leave Jamaica for Charlotte in 2017.
“I came here on a journey,” Barrett said, recalling that conversation.
Barrett follows a growing list of Jamaican runners who have honed their skills at JCSU.
The most famous, perhaps, was Leford Green, who set school records in the 400-meter hurdles and finished seventh in the 2012 Olympic games in London with a time of 49.12. (Barrett’s best time in that event is 50.8, a mark he set this year in the CIAA Championships.)
Barrett said he chose JCSU, in part, because he knew that he would get to train with Green, currently an assistant coach at the school. “Being able to train with an Olympian will make me a better person,” he said.
He also was influenced by the presence of former JCSU track and field coach Lennox Graham, a Jamaican who has trained some of this country’s best runners.
Barrett said that although he is looking forward to running in the Division II Championships on his home track, he does not believe it will give him an advantage. In the end, he said, it all boils down to the clock, the distance and individual effort.
Asked why Jamaica produces so many good runners, Green said it often boils down to economic opportunity.
“Every Jamaican will tell a different story, and we all have a different journey,” he said. “But we come from humble beginnings. So oftentimes, our way out is either through violence, sports or education. Those are the three options if you want to make it out of Jamaica. Obviously, violence is not an option, because you know where that goes. So it comes to education and sports.”
JCSU becomes a ‘destination’
JCSU Athletic Director Stephen Joyner said the Division II Championships will be a “destination,” one he hopes the community will turn out to support.
“You’re going to see some of the best track that is in Division II — the best of the best,” he said. “It’s high-caliber track and field. Come on over and have some fun.”
Date: May 24-26
Time: 9 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Place: Johnson C. Smith University, Irwin Belk Complex