Track and Field: Parker expands his medal collection

Tyreek Parker has two shiny new additions to his medal collection.

The Riverhead High School senior has won some nice medals before, but the two newest additions wrapped around his neck Saturday at the New York State Indoor Track and Field Championships may be the most impressive yet.

“The medals are gorgeous,” Riverhead coach Sal Loverde said admiringly as he took a closer look at them. “Just look at those. That’s something you’ll have forever and ever.”

Parker, running in Lane 8, earned the medals for coming in sixth place in public schools and eighth in the Federation in the 55-meter hurdles at Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex. His time was 7.84 seconds.

South Shore senior Brandon Smith was first in 7.37.

After receiving his medals on the podium, Parker was aglow. “They’re beautiful,” he said.

Loverde remarked, “I never met a runner who didn’t like medals.”

Those medals helped brighten up the day for Parker, who wasn’t exactly enthralled with his times (he was clocked in 7.81 in the preliminaries, just fast enough to earn him a place in the eight-person final).

Asked what he thought of his performance, Parker replied: “Out of 10, I’ll give it maybe a five because I could have done better. I’m not happy with it, but I’m happy that I’m All-State.”

At the same time, Parker recognized the caliber of competition he was facing in his first state indoor meet. That included Mount Sinai senior Justin Wei, who Parker narrowly edged by 0.01 seconds to take first place in the Long Island Elite Indoor Meet seven days earlier at St. Anthony’s High School. Wei was fifth in the state final in 7.75. Another Long Islander, Farmingdale senior Amir Cambridge, finished one place ahead of Parker in 7.79.

“I knew all the guys next to me are good, straight out good, so I just had to focus on getting over the hurdles and not hitting them,” Parker said. “There’s more to the story because they’re fast and skilled.”

Loverde said, “They had some great talent here today.”

Loverde said he saw the disappointment etched on Parker’s face when his eighth-place finish in the race was posted on the large scoreboard. After Parker received his two medals, though, Loverde also noticed a change in Parker’s demeanor.

“You can see [the change] from the disappointment to the elation was great,” Loverde said. “You’re top eight in the state. I mean, there’s nothing to be disappointed about. Nothing.”

Riverhead assistant coach Steve Gevinski, who works with the team’s hurdlers, liked what he saw from his star pupil.

“Sixth in the public schools in New York State, that’s phenomenal,” Gevinski said. He added: “In a race like this, in the 55 meters, when you’re going against the best kids in the state, everything has to be perfect for 55 meters. I’m just really extremely proud of how well he did.”

Parker was a reluctant hurdler when he joined the team three years ago, seeing himself as a pure sprinter. But his coaches saw the hurdler in him waiting to come out.

“First of all, you have to just be born a certain way,” Loverde said. “You know, you have to have that gifted speed. We could make you technically more sound as a sprinter/hurdler, but you got to have speed, and he was born with that gift. Also, he works. He’s been working very diligently on the hurdles, and he fought us in the beginning when we first made him do it. He was [like], ‘I don’t want to do this, Coach.’ And now look at him. He went from becoming just a natural athlete to a student of the event.”

Parker said he felt nerves in the meet. “Just pulling up and getting out of the bus was nerve-racking,” he said.

Parker will close out his indoor season in the New Balance Nationals Indoor, which will be held Friday through Sunday at The Armory in Manhattan. It will be another opportunity for him to pick up another medal.

“He did a great job, just to have this experience,” Loverde said. “You put it on your college résumé and twenty years from now, when you’re still looking at those medals, you say, ‘Remember these?’ They’ll be the ones that sit on the top of the heap.”