Grade-school buddies maintain ties on the track field

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org

Mitch Fairless' best high jump prior to the state meet this year was 6'8" and Daniel McMurran's was 6'6". They didn't have to call each other to find out, though.

"Pretty much every weekend I look on MoMileSplit, which is the track website, look at his stats, see what he got, hoping that he wasn't beating me," Fairless said.

"Same here," McMurran quickly interjected. "I try to keep up with it as much as I can."

McMurran and Fairless were elementary school classmates at the Academy of the Sacred Heart, class of 2014, and teammates on the school's CYC track and field team. Fairless followed his brother, Will, who also was a high jumper and now is a college freshman, to nearby Duchesne High School. McMurran followed his brother, Joseph, to St. Louis University High School.

The juniors are among the top high jumpers in the state, but because their schools are in different classes, they don't compete against each other in the state meet, for which both qualified again this year. Fairless placed second last year in Class 3 at the state meet with a jump of 6' 7" and McMurran finished third in Class 5 high jump with a leap of 6'5".

The boys also compete in the long jump and were to face each other in April in the All Catholic Invitational hosted at Chaminade, but Fairless was taking the ACT exam. McMurran won the high jump at the event.

Jonathan Gonzalez, their former coach at the Academy of the Sacred Heart, praised them as "extremely hard-working young men. They just had the most fun with it. They have a genuine love for the high jump."

During practice and at the CYC meets, their former coach said, they always competed with each other to see who could make the highest jump.

Most of all, Gonzalez said, "they're wonderful young men. I absolutely loved coaching them."

McMurran said that as a team sport with individual events, track gives him a sense of freedom. "When you're in the air, how your body moves is unique, and it's fun to do."

Among McMurran's highlights is being challenged last year by a senior, David Jackson, who did high jumping for the first time and kept pace with the experienced sophomore jumper. "He made it (the state meet) before me and challenged me more to make it," McMurran said.

McMurran likes the atmosphere of the state meet, with the large, loud crowds in the stands. "It's just fun to be a part of something so big," said the parishioner of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in St. Charles.

He praises SLUH's philosophy of putting academics first, and the Jesuit motto of dedicating all thoughts, words and actions to the greater glory of God makes it easy to bring his faith into his sport. "We're taught to find God in everything," he said. "The sense of being in the air and floating, I really find God present there."

A defensive back on the football team, he's turning his focus to that team once track ends.

Fairless enjoys the challenge and the atmosphere of the state meet. He gets satisfaction from "making heights" as he calls his jumps, and said "once you make that height it's a feeling like no other.

"It always came natural to me," said Fairless, who is 6'6" tall. "It looked fun to go out there and do it," he recalled of the first time he and McMurran thought of participating. "We both tried it, since we are both athletic, and we were really good at it from the start."

The CYC competition helped him in part because he competed with McMurran and another jumper, Barkley Dale, now a member of SLUH's water polo team. "Having someone there to push you every step along the way makes you so much better," he said. "If I didn't have those other two guys, I definitely wouldn't be where I am."

Basketball is his main sport, where he was first team all conference in the AAA league. He's starred for a quality Duchesne team and will play AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) ball this summer.

The parishioner of St. Peter in St. Charles wants to perform well for the school and appreciates the support fellow students give him. He incorporates his faith in his athletic life because it helps him "stay the course like I would with faith through all the ups and downs, good meets and bad meets. It's a trust process to be as good as I can."

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