Darby Thomas named winner of Gerry Cooley Award at Drake Relays

Darby Thomas was named the winner of the Gerry Cooley Award, which goes to the most outstanding performer in the high school girls division of the Drake Relays.

COUNCIL BLUFFS — Ann Clinton and Molly Stogdill had a familiar welcome for Darby Thomas on Monday morning.

It has become tradition for the Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln main office workers to mark off in tape the distance Thomas leaped to win a Drake Relays or state championship in the long jump.

On Monday, sure enough, there it was, 19 feet worth of celebratory tape.

“They always joke about how they jumped the 19 feet, and it’s so funny,’’ Thomas said. “They’re just so proud of me, and it makes my heart happy.’’

There was more cause for celebration later Monday, as Thomas was named the winner of the Gerry Cooley Award, which goes to the most outstanding performer in the high school girls division of the Drake Relays.

Thomas, who will continue her career at Nebraska, is the second A.L. athlete to win the award, following star thrower and former Husker Paulette Mitchell in 1992. The other Council Bluffs winner was ex-Lewis Central thrower Abby Emsick in 2002.

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In the 110th running of “America’s Athletic Classic,’’ Thomas became the second girl to win the 100 hurdles and long jump in the same year, following former Logan-Magnolia star Alex Gochenour in 2011.

She won the long jump on Thursday at 19 feet, and the senior’s five fair jumps were all at least six inches farther than any from her competitors.

Despite not starting her hurdling career until last season, Thomas won the 100 hurdles in 14.30 seconds on Friday. She returned later in the day to place second in the 100 in 12.16.

Thomas said it means everything that she can share her triumphs with her teammates, coaches, teachers and classmates.

“Everyone at A.L. is so supportive,’’ she said. “It just means a lot to come from such a supportive school. I didn’t think that I had that in me, to win hurdles and to jump 19 that day, so it was just their support that has pushed me all the time.’’

Johnston senior Joe Schaefer won the Robert Kramme Award that goes to the outstanding high school boys performer.

He capped a memorable weekend Saturday with his third victory, pulling away from the lead pack to win the 1,600. Schaefer also won the 800 and anchored Johnston to a victory in the 3,200 relay. Schaefer is the first Johnston athlete to garner the honor.

The Maury White Award in the collegiate/invitational men’s division went to South Dakota pole vaulter Chris Nilsen, and the collegiate/invitational women’s winner was Faith Ross of Kentucky.

Nilsen, the 2019 NCAA indoor champion as a junior at South Dakota, upset 2017 World Champion Sam Kendricks. Nielsen vaulted an indoor personal best 19-2.5 (5.85m) on his second attempt. It marked the first time Nilsen had beaten Kendricks in five head-to-head meetings.

Ross, a three-time All-American, raced to a 58.21 time to win the women's university-college 400 hurdles. She returned Saturday to win the 100 hurdles in 13.30, becoming the third collegian to sweep the 400 hurdles and 100 hurdles, and the first since 2004.