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Matthews looks to jump into record books

Photo by Derrick Mahone
Forest Park sophomore Bria Matthews prepares to make a high jump attempt at last week’s rain-shorten Clayton County Track and Field Championships.

Photo by Derrick Mahone Forest Park sophomore Bria Matthews prepares to make a high jump attempt at last week’s rain-shorten Clayton County Track and Field Championships.

FOREST PARK – Two things come naturally for Bria Matthews.

And only one of them has to do with her exploits as a track athlete.

Matthews, a sophomore jumper at Forest Park High, said she not only likes stretching her best marks on the field, but she also enjoys numbers that aren’t about measuring her jumping heights and distances.

“Math is my favorite subject,” said Matthews, an aspiring physical therapist. “It’s just easy. It’s normal. It’s always something that’s been easy to me.”

Her coach, Art Williams — who also teaches her honors math class — said that it’s not hard to imagine why Matthews is equally successful at both.

“What she brings out there to the track is the same thing she brings to the classroom,” Williams said. “Here’s a young lady with natural ability who doesn’t even really realize yet that what she’s out here doing is really phenomenal.”

That’s because Matthews is too busy having fun.

Williams, who’s been coaching the Panthers’ track and field team since arriving in the area from New Jersey in September, describes Matthews as someone who has an endearing quirkiness about her that makes her not only an exceptional athlete, but a unique individual.

She’s not a boaster. Not a braggart. Although Williams, who has coached “exceptional track athletes” for the last six years in the Winslow, N.J. area said she has room to be one if she wanted to.

“She’s elite,” Williams said. “And this is the scary part. She’s top-notch elite. She’s not even (weight room) strong yet, and her technique isn’t even mastered. She’s just a sophomore, but she’s constantly moving into that elite territory.”

She proved it by achieving a personal record mark of 39 feet, eight inches in the triple jump at Tuesday’s Grady Primer. Williams said she has placed first in the triple jump in every meet this year, except one. And that was at the Gary Townsend Invitational two weeks ago when she placed second only to last year’s triple jump state champion Keyasia Tibbs of Tri-Cities High.

She showed enough of a speed burst running down the lane for her jumps to where her coaches decided to let her run the 100-meter at the Grady meet.

She made that look easy too, placing first in the event with a personal best 12.52 seconds. It was something that Matthews said she can now check off her list of things to accomplish before graduation.

“I felt good doing it, because I’ve always wanted to do the 100,” Matthews said.

But it’s the jumps that she’s going to focus on as the season winds to a close — starting with next week’s Region 5-AAAAA meet.

It’s the jumps — triple, high and long — that Matthews believes will put her in the conversation with some of the best track athletes in Georgia history.

“I just like breaking records,” Matthews said. “My PR for the triple is already longer than the Clayton County record, but I would’ve had to do it at county in order for it to count. Now I want to try and break the state record. And I think if I do my best I can qualify for state in all of my events.”

And Williams is one who won’t dare doubt her ambition.

“It’s an honor to work with her,” he said. “It’s rare. You’re not going to find too many types of student-athletes like her. When they come around, you just try to give them all that you know and the staff works to bring out the best in her. I have a strong, strong sense she’s going to do well at the qualifiers and move on to state and do very, very well.”