What separates the Gatorade Player of the Year award that’s presented to the state’s best in high school track & field from other sports is that it’s not limited to a specific season.
Going a step further, the distinction doesn’t include the body of work that’s compiled during the indoor and outdoor seasons. Anything that has to do with track is fair game as long as the event or meet takes place during a 12-month period.
Along those lines, let’s revisit what took place the night of July 27, 2020. Racing against pros in West Hartford, Conn., St. Raphael’s Darius Kipyego established a new R.I. record in the 800-meter race (1:48.82).
His participation and subsequent success in the “Track is Back No. 3” meet was an important piece of evidence that was submitted to the Gatorade committee. After all, the meet in Connecticut fell within the year-long window that in Kipyego’s case was open for business on July 1, 2020 and closed on June 30, 2021 – four days after winning the boys’ 800-meter run at the RIIL outdoor state meet.
Kipyego won’t have the chance to make it three straight Gatorade R.I. Boys Track & Field Player of the Year honors. That’s because the 2021 St. Raphael graduate is off to Iowa State.
To receive said honor from Gatorade in back-to-back years – the announcement made Thursday – speaks volumes to how memorable his final lap around the oval turned out as a high school participant.
Within the R.I. high school track fraternity, Kipyego ended the 2020-21 school year with the best times in the 400 (49.83 seconds – Class C outdoor meet), 800 (1:51.71 – Platinum PT Qualifier), and 1,500 (3:54.74 – Hendricken Invitational). He may have earned a prominent place as a middle-distance specialist, yet Kipyego has repeatedly demonstrated that he can be plugged into any race and expect to thrive.
He truly is a special breed of runner.
“One of the best things about Darius that has been so evident this spring is his versatility,” said Amy Noecker, cross-country/track head coach of Mount St. Charles, her quote accompanying Thursday’s press release put out by Gatorade. “He can tackle just about any distance around the oval and he always makes it look effortless.”
His list of individual accolades is lengthy and impressive, yet Kipyego is far from a sole proprietorship when it comes to high school track. This past winter, he helped St. Raphael earn gold medal status in the boys’ 4x400 relay. The same team-first approach was on display during last month’s outdoor state meet when Kipyego teamed up with his younger brother Devan Kipyego and sophomore Pedro Mayol and junior Jack Pereira for another 4x400 state title.
Reached Thursday, SRA cross-country/track head coach Chris Magill rattled off a laundry list of reasons of why it’s going to be tough to move on from Kipyego.
“It’s been quite the journey. Coast-to-coast and even internationally, we’ve been to meets and been together … from Miami, to New York, to Costa Rica,” said Magill. “For those away meets, I’ll warm up with him before a race and do the cool down. The only thing I miss is the two fast laps he does.
“Usually, I stand around that 200-meter mark. He knows I’m there,” added Magill. “It’s going to be different next year, but it’s been an amazing ride with memories that I’ll always have.”
To receive acknowledgment from Gatorade means you’re in a special category when it comes to athletic prowess. It also means that you excel in the classroom and in the community. To both of those points, Kipyego maintained an A-minus average in the classroom at SRA and volunteered as part of multiple community service initiatives through his church youth group.
Kipyego becomes the third R.I. track & field athlete to win two Gatorade honors. Since he’s a repeat winner, St. Raphael still firmly holds to the number 18, as in 18 different athletes in school history to receive acknowledgment from Gatorade.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03