WEST ORANGE, NJ - 2014 has been a record setting year on the track for West Orange High School senior Malawi Allen.
Allen does many events in both winter and spring track including long jump, hurdles, and 200 meters. However, her main event, the high jump, is where she makes her mark.
Allen was not always an athlete. In fact, the 17 year-old senior only went out for track in the spring of her junior year with a friend. Always shy, she had not played any other sports. Once she joined the team, she knew she wanted to do the high jump because her father, Charles, was a high jumper at Columbia University.
"Malawi was such a nice kid, and we wanted to find a place for her on the team," said Head Coach Joe Picataggio. "That's when Girls Coach Kathy Jackson came over to me and said, 'Did you see that? Malawi just jumped over four feet."
“Once I first came in I wasn’t sure where I was going to fit in, but I knew I wanted to be a high jumper,” said Allen.
On May 17 at Woodman Field in Montclair, Allen made her parents, coaches, and teammates proud, accomplishing a personal goal and making history in the high jump event. On her third and final jump, Allen surpassed her personal best of 5 feet and 4 inches and cleared 5 feet and 6 inches. Not only was Malawi's jump the best at the meet, it tied a meet record - East Orange’s Stephanie Ross’ mark from 1987 and Newark Tech’s Briona Singleton’s mark from 2013. That mark is also a West Orange High School record.
Malawi credits her success to her high jump coach Kathy Jackson.
“She taught me mostly everything I know. She just kind of inspires me and she’s always there to make sure that I do what I need to do.”
Malawi also has done great things off of the track. Two years ago she went on a mission trip to Ghana as a part of the Adopt a Village program spearheaded by West Orange resident Emmanuel "Baba" Sackey and handed out clothing and meals to kids in the area. She also helped repaint one of their schools and replace the chalkboards.
“It was a really nice experience. I grew really attached to the kids by the end of the trip,” she said.
Malawi’s success on the track has helped her earn athletic and academic scholarships to Georgian Court University in Lakewood, NJ where she will study anthropology.
To tie records with one year of training, and a come back from an injury, is a remarkable feat in itself. But to Picataggio, it's not just about winning, it's about what is good for the kids.
Through her experience on the track team, Malawi transformed from a reserved person to a leader on the team, says Coach Joe Picataggio.
Malawi is happy to be a part of the team and calls her teammates her “second family.”
The West Orange High School Boys and Girls track teams will head to the State Sectionals May 23-24. The top six move on to next week's Group IV State Championships, and the top six from there will move on to the June 4 Meet of Champions.
When asked if she thought she would make all-state in high jump, Malawi smiled and said, "Yes, I have a chance."