The first thing a person notices about Morro Bay High sophomore (soon to be junior) Joey Ruddell is that he is tall — incredibly tall.
“How tall are you?” this reporter found himself asking right off the bat, as Ruddell shows me into his family’s Los Osos home.
“Six-nine,” he says in a rich baritone voice that betrays his 16 years. After a hand shake and a shake of the head we take a seat at the family dinning room table, with his mom, Skye. It’s easy to see why Ruddell has suddenly burst onto the statewide stage in the world of high school track & field, qualifying for last weekend’s State Championships in the high jump.
Ruddell says when he was at Los Osos Middle School, track was one of the units for P.E. and “I thought it might be fun.”
Already the second tallest kid at LOMS, he says he hit a growth spurt summer after 8th grade and shot up quickly in height as he entered high school. He also plays volleyball and basketball — though he’s dropped volleyball for now to concentrate more on hoops — but the high jump was where his focus was, as he prepared to compete at the State Championships at Buchanan High in Fresno.
His freshman year, he says about half way through the season, he decided to join the track team. MBHS last season had another remarkable sophomore high jumper, Jacob Furbee, who also qualified for the State Meet when he cleared 6-5 at the Master’s Meet. He went on to finish 12th at State. But he suffered an ankle injury this past April and didn’t recover in time to go to CIF.
Ruddell too suffered an ankle injury that kept him out for most of the season, finally making his debut this year at the prestigious Russell Cup, which he won with a jump of 6-feet 5-inches.
Prior to that his person best had been 6’2” he says. He competed in the junior varsity at Russell Cup because coach Greg Wilson thought he could beat the meet record for JVs. He did, and also set the school record for that meet, which the team competes at every year.
He followed the Russell Cup win with a win at the Los Padres League Finals and the County Meet.
The frosh-soph (JV) record at the County Meet was 6-foot he says, and he cleared 6’4”.
Then in CIF he started to peak. In the Divisional Finals he set a new school and personal record of 6’6” and took second place. He also qualified for the Master’s Meet where the top athletes from each division compete for a chance to go to State.
He again matched his new personal record of 6’6” and landed in third place.
“I jumped 6-6 two weeks in a row,” he says. So did a dozen other guys, but Ruddell says he took second because he didn’t miss. He’ll be the youngest jumper at the State Meet, he says.
And this is just the second season for him; he’s still mastering the technique — the Fosbury Flop. “I’m still trying to get the form down,” he says. The key is arching your back as you fly over the cross bar. “It’s easy to learn but hard to master.”
And he’s done all this on a very sore ankle that he hurt playing basketball for the “Sixth Man” club team. He hurt it playing in the first tournament he’d gone to with the team. “It’s at full strength,” he says, “but it’s really tender. I haven’t played basketball in weeks.” He lost several weeks of the track season, too.
Asked what he likes best about high jumping, he says it’s a relaxed sport and for most of the day he hangs around watching the meet. “But when the time comes to compete,” he says, “I like the energy of it.”
Along that line, he doesn’t like that his event always comes at the end of the day. “I have a 7-hour wait to compete,” he says, “but it’s not that bad.”
At State he says another athlete, Sean Lee, who has already cleared 7-3, was aiming to top the National Record of 7’4-1/2”. “He’s going to try for seven-four and three quarters,” Ruddell says. As for himself, he hopes to at least clear 7 feet one day, but not likely this year.
And about that height, he laughs because at 6’9” he’s not even the tallest kid in the family. His 19-year-old brother is 7’2”, his mother Sky, herself 6-feet tall, explains. That son is on a basketball scholarship at U.C. Irvine where he was red shirted this season.
Joey, son No. 2, is 6’9” and their third son is 6’2”, she says. Son No. 4 is still in grade school and hasn’t had his growth spurt yet.
“It’s funny,” she laughs, “the short one in the family is six-two.” Her husband Matson is 6-4. “They make us feel small.”
Story by Neil Farrell, photos by Mark Smith