Clinton Tabb turned, stared across the infield and watched as a senior organized a 200-meter heat during a dual meet on Tuesday. Then, the observant coach of the Pennsauken High School boys’ track team yelled encouragement to the Indians’ 1,600 runners turning the curve on the track.
“He has completely turned the corner,” Tabb gushed about his senior Braheem Whitfield, not his 1,600 runners. “He made the honor roll the last two semesters. I’m so happy with him, he really turned into a leader.
“Really, he got out of his own way,” Tabb added with paternal pride about Whitfield.
Now Whitfield is quickly getting out of other’s way as the elite sprinter is running away from his gassed competition.
To get here, to get out in front, though, Whitfield had to first pick himself up. His mother died when he was in the fifth grade.
“It was tough, it was shocking, but it turned me into a man,” Whitfield said about the death of his mother, Ajia. “I said it made me be the man I wanted to be and it taught me to be a leader, and a track leader.
“And I have a little brother (Kwamiere) and I want him to look up to me.”
“He’s like a big brother to me,” junior Donte Jamison said, endorsing Whitfield.
Truly, Whitfield - and Jamison - have been passed the golden baton. And they aren’t being weighed down carrying the expectations of being the next great sprinters for the Indians, following the fleet footsteps of Martin Booker, a freshman at Hampton University, and Marquan Jones, a sophomore at Rider.
“There's a chance Pennsauken will have four individual 400 meters state champions” said assistant coach Billy Snyder on how Whitfield matched over the winter the indoor titles won by Booker and Jones the last two years and how Johnson has dashed his way into the conversation for next year.
“Going to try for four in a row,” Jamison said about his goal next indoor season.
But first is the outdoor season.
“I feel like the juniors look up to me the same way I looked up Marquan and Martin,” Whitfield said. “I let them know they have someone behind them.”
With Whitfield leading the way, Pennsauken will try to stretch the success of winning Group 3 state relay titles in the 4x200 and 4x400 over the winter into the outdoor season, beginning at the Temple Relays Twilight High School meet on Friday.
“We want to give them a little different experience,” Snyder said about crossing the river to run instead of running at the West Deptford Relays this weekend.
Over the winter, Whitfield clocked a 50.72 to win the 400 Group 3 Indoor title while Jamison was just behind him at 50.83. Donovan Hines, a junior, ran a 51.72.
“I’m looking to repeat and win it again,” Whitfield said about the 400 outdoors.
Pennsauken is also looking to win the outdoor team state title this spring, which they staked two years ago. The Indians certainly have paved the way over the winter.
In the indoor season 4x200 relay, Whitfield, Hines and Jamison ran behind Nahzir Russell for a 1:31.72 and the gold in the state meet. In the 4x400, the trio ran behind leadoff Nijul Crawford for a 3:27.28 and another gold in Group 3.
Two years ago, in the 4x200 relay, Whitfield ran third on the school-record team that ran a 1:27.68 with Jones running leadoff, followed by Russell and then Booker anchoring.
Whitfield ran leadoff on the school record 4x400 relay in 2016 followed by Booker, Russell and Ryan Wernegah.
In the individual outdoor 400, Whitfield is second in school history with a 48.94 clocked last year behind Booker’s 48.33 in 2016. Jamison is sixth with a 51.50 last year.
Whitfield, who is being recruited by Rowan University, holds the school record in the outdoor 800 with a 1:57.35 set in 2016 while Jamison is fifth with a 2:05.06 two years ago.
Whitfield and Jamison will run on the 4x100 and 4x400 teams in two weeks at the Penn Relays.
“We're going to try and break the school record at Penn,” Whitfield said. “We’re trying to win it this year and give coach his first championship.”
Last June, Booker Jr. won the 200-meter Meet of Champions outdoor crown with a time of 21.57 after winning the indoor event also. He placed second outdoors as a junior.
The legacy of Pennsauken senior sprinters continues with Whitfield in his final season of competition.
“You can actually trace it back to Antwan Dickerson,” Snyder said about the former Pennsauken track star who is now jumping at Houston for coach Carl Lewis, the Olympic great from Willingboro. “He has inspirations on the Olympic Trials in two years.”
Dickerson, a senior, flew a 25-5 ¼ (wind-aided) foot long jump at the recent Texas Relays. Dickerson, who jumped 23-6 at Pennsauken, won a state championship and placed second in the Meet of Champions.
And the next great Pennsauken track star is also making an impact outside of the track.
“He’s a leader,” Jamison said about Whitfield “and is leading us the right way.”