The November issue of Sports Illustrated Kids features SportsKids of the Month that includes a kickboxer from Illinois, a baseball player from Virginia and a track and field star from Hudson, New York.
Neil Howard III, 12, of Taconic Hills Central School, is one of the three featured athletes after his impressive showings at the USATF Youth Championships and the USATF Junior Olympics.
“My parents showed me the magazine last week and asked me to take a look at it,” Howard said. “When I flipped through the magazine and saw my picture I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it, but I was so excited.”
Howard has competed in track and field events for years, but has honed in on the Pentathlon, which he has started to excel at.
“I’ve been competing for about five years,” he said. “My dad is my coach and got me involved in the Pentathlon because it covers many events in track and field — the 80M hurdles, shot put, high jump, long jump and 1500M run — and he thought I would be good at the multi-events.”
At the USATF Youth Outdoor Track & Field Championships, Howard swept the pentathlon events in the 11-12-year-old division, scoring a total of 2,364 points. A month later, he won the 11-12-year-old division at the Junior Olympics with 2,543 points — a new Adirondack Association record which bested Howard’s own previous record.
During the Outdoor Nationals, Howard nailed a 15-foot, 7.5-inch long jump which is a USATF Adirondack record, beating the previous 11-12 boys Adirondack record from 2005 set by Chatham native Josh Keyes, who now plays for the Houston Texans, by 0.5 inches.
“I went to the USATF Outdoor Championships as a warmup for Nationals in July. At that time, I hadn’t competed in a full Pentathlon yet that season, so I was well-prepared and focused for the competition. Winning all five events during the day was a huge accomplishment because multi-events demand a lot of stamina and emotional composure.”
At Nationals a year ago, Howard placed 13th. This year, he came with extra motivation to earn a spot on the podium.
“I was really motivated to medal this year,” he said. “We start the day at 8 a.m. and don’t finish the five events until late in the afternoon. In July it’s always really hot, so I have to stay hydrated and focused. It’s tiring. Going in to the last event, the 1500M run, I was in third place overall. I knew I needed to PR to win. When the starting gun sounded, I was pumped with adrenaline and feeling strong. I finished fourth in the 1500M run, but I did set a PR for myself and won the Pentathlon by about 90 points. The results takes a little while to come in and I was really tired from the day, but I was excited to win a national title.”
Though he set a personal record in the 1500-meters at Nationals, Howard noted that his favorite event in the Pentathlon is the hurdles.
Down the road, the Taconic Hills student-athlete looks to broaden his skill set.
“In the future, I want to become a decathlete and compete at the NCAA level,” he said.
Two decathletes that Howard looks up to are Ashton Eaton and Dick Fosbury.
“I’ve met both of them at USATF National meets and they were so nice and encouraging,” Howard said. “Ashton Eaton just keeps getting better every time he competes and Dick Fosbury pioneered the Fosbury Flop, a famous high jump technique. Inventing something that is universal in track and field is pretty cool.”