The NCHSAA State Championships will be broadcasted live on MileSplit this year! You can watch the action next weekend with the NCHSAA 2A/3A State Championships on Friday and NCHSAA 1A/4A State Championships on Saturday with your MileSplit Pro Subscription!
Long-time A.L. Brown track and field coach Gerald Hefner knew from the start that current state-leading 400m runner Josh Parks had the potential to be a one-of-a-kind athlete at the 3A school in Kannapolis.
"He kind of stood out amongst the crowd," said Hefner.
He recalls one track meet when Parks first caught his eye. Hefner was the starter for the meet, and he watched as Parks threw down a very solid sprint as a freshman. In just that one race, one moment, Hefner knew Parks was a star in the making.
"I know I walked up to him [after his race] and he had his hands on his knees. I got down and said 'Son, that is a great, great run. You are something special, you keep working hard,'" said Hefner.
Now as a senior, Parks is nothing less than special. The UNC Wilmington signee holds the top 400m time in North Carolina at 47.48, as well as NC No. 2 and NC No. 3 rankings in the 110m hurdles and 300m hurdles. He holds A.L. Brown school records in the 200m, 400m, 110m hurdles, and 300m hurdles. Over the span of his career, Parks has appeared in three state championship meets, scoring points in every single one.
2019 Outdoor Rankings New
But maybe what's most impressive is his versatility both on the track and in the field. He has an impressive skill set that allows him to succeed in many events: the 400m, 200m, 110m hurdles, 300m hurdles, and high jump. And Parks is no stranger to quadrupling in meets--he even did it at the 3A outdoor state championship as a junior, placing in all four events.
Athletes and spectators watch in awe as Parks bounces from high jump, to the hurdles, back to the high jump pit, and then back on the track for the 400m and the 200m at any given meet. For some, this would be an arduous challenge. But for Parks, this is normal.
"I like to stay active and compete in everything as much as I can," said Parks. "If I have the ability to do it, why not do it?"
Simply put, Parks isn't your average track athlete--he's in league of his own.
"He's like a freak of nature," said A.L. Brown girls track and field coach and Parks' high jump coach Davon Brown.
Parks didn't even begin his track and field career competing in any of the numerous events he excels in now. He first found himself out on the course competing in cross country as a seventh grader. Parks also participated in various other sports, including football.
When middle school track season rolled around, Parks' coach put him in the mile, since Parks had distance experience under his belt from cross country season. But over time, a new skill set for Parks began to emerge: speed. Gradually, Parks worked his way from running the mile down to the 800m and eventually the 400m in eighth grade.
Parks harnessed both speed and inspiration when he made the move to the 400m. His dad, who ran track as a kid, set a personal best in the 400m of 49 seconds. Parks hoped that he could break his dad's record someday in the future if he developed a focus in the sprint discipline.
That eighth-grade season became the start of something special. He went undefeated in his races, and realized that maybe he truly did have the talent to not just surpass his father's personal record, but succeed at the high school level and possibly beyond.
"I kind of was like 'Oh, I can do something with track,'" said Parks.
Parks then made the transition to high school track, but he had a freshman season that he characterizes as lackluster; he didn't dominate every time he stepped on the track the way he did as an eighth grader. However, with the help of countless offseason weight sessions, Parks had a breakout sophomore season, highlighted by his performance at the 4A state championships (A.L. Brown reclassified as 3A during Parks' junior season). He finished sixth in both the high jump and the 400m, an impressive feat for an underclassman.
"Just being a sophomore and being able to be in the states and to compete that high was a great thing," said Parks.
That meet served as a crucial turning point. Parks realized that the goals he set in middle school could indeed be met. His parents also saw the talent their son possessed, and even convinced him to give up football, a sport he had played since eighth grade.
"[My dad] was like 'You already got colleges probably talking about you, you're getting to state 4A, so you might as well just focus on that and try to become a lot better at that,'" said Parks.
With that new dedication, Parks found his element and talent: stretching his abilities across multiple events.
As a junior, Parks first picked up what is now one of his best events--hurdles--in accidental fashion. Hefner was just showing some younger athletes hurdle technique at a practice to find the next A.L. Brown hurdlers when Parks, who was just goofing around, jumped over the hurdles.
His form was exceptional.
"Josh just kind of came out of nowhere and stepped over the hurdles and snapped his lead leg down," said Hefner. "And I said 'That's who we're looking for right there.'"
At first, Parks was hesitant to compete in the event--he feared falling and suffering injuries attempting to jump over the hurdles. But the team had no other hurdlers going into the county and conference meets, so Parks agreed. After he won the 110m hurdles at the county, conference, and regional meets, he grew to enjoy his newfound talent.
"It was easy, jumping over the hurdles, because I can kind of jump high," said Parks.
Perhaps Parks' biggest feat came just weeks after first grappling his new multi-event approach when he placed in the 400m (fourth place), 110m hurdles (fourth place), high jump (fifth place), and 200m (sixth place) at the 3A outdoor state meet.
Adding hurdles to the already large amount of events under his belt, Parks was turning into a multi-event star.
"If the coaches had not gotten rid of our pole vaulting mats during my tenure when I was not coaching and we had them right now, he would do that," said Hefner. "That's the type of person he is. He's so good at everything."
Parks has added even more accolades to his name since then. He earned his first runner-up finish at the 3A indoor state championships in the 55m hurdles as a senior, as well as a fourth-place finish in the high jump. He has piled up achievements along with seconds and inches of improvements; Parks has improved by over six seconds in the 400m and 10 inches in the high jump in four years.
It takes having a laundry list of qualities to excel in events across the board, let alone gradually improve in those events by great lengths. Parks' coaches affirm that Josh's hard work has helped him use his natural abilities to their fullest potential.
"Josh is dedicated to perfection," said Brown. "He really wants to get better every single track meet."
Hefner believes a lot of this rise to success has to do with that fact that Parks bought into his training system, a system that includes a mix of sprint repeats, strides, jump practice, hurdle work, and some weight training.
It also doesn't hurt that Parks stands at a height of around 6'3". His height, along with his strength, speed, and agility, combine to create the perfect storm.
But what sets Parks apart from other athletes is his aggressive competitive spirit. Parks himself admits that he hates losing, and that pushes him to dig deep each race.
"I love competing, especially when it's neck-to-neck and [a competitor and I are] both fighting for that first place," said Parks. "That's real track to me."
Parks celebrates when he looks at a meet entry list and sees athletes that are as good, if not better than him set to race him. Just a couple of weeks ago, he was itching with excitement leading up to the Charlotte Area Track Meet, anxious to go head-to-head against other top NC hurdlers such as senior Joshua Brockman (at the meet, Parks set a new PR in the 110m hurdles, finishing just behind Brockman).
As a coach, Hefner appreciates having an athlete that he knows will always use his competitive nature to his advantage, a quality that most athletes don't possess. "Some guys they like it when it's easy. They like it, they do. But when it gets tough, that's when you really find out what somebody's about. And that's just the way [Parks has] been all along," said Hefner.
Parks will look to continue his dominance in various events at the 3A level. He has set big goals for himself-he wants to win an individual state championship in an event, dip under 13 seconds in the 110m hurdles, and even drop down to 46 seconds in the 400m.
However, Parks will be faced with a big decision heading into regionals and states in the coming weeks. He'll have to decide whether to compete in the 300m hurdles or the 400m, along with the 110m hurdles and the high jump. With the 300m hurdles and and 400m contested back-to-back, even Parks with his stamina would be tasked with the impossible if he tried to do both. No matter the combination Parks chooses, Hefner has full faith that he will achieve his aspirations to cap off his last high school season.
"I know he's going to do great things in the state meet," said Hefner.
And even beyond high school, Hefner anticipates that Parks has the makings to be one of the top track and field athletes in the country, high praise coming from a veteran coach that has seen many of the state's best athletes compete on the sport's largest stages.
"He is a quality athlete," said Hefner. "If he continues down the path he is right now, he's going to be an Olympian."
Looking back on his youth career, Parks appreciates the times many times he stood on top of the state podium and the shock he felt when he threw down his state-leading 47.48 400m at the Cabarrus County Track and Field Championships last April. But he'll always fondly remember calling his mom with excitement when he hit 49 seconds in the 400m as a sophomore to break his dad's 400m personal best.
"That was the whole goal this whole time, just to break my dad's 400," said Parks.
Parks may have only been looking to break his father's record during his high school track and field career, but he ended up far exceeding the athletic potential Hefner saw in him at that one meet during his freshman year.
"It's just a small fine line between good and great," said Hefner. "I think he has all of the qualities to be a great one, not just a good one."