Down the street from where CJ McCord used to compete in track and field and Darrien Burwell used to coach the sport, the two met at a coffee shop on Wednesday. They both live in Huntington Beach, walking distance to their former high school, Edison.
McCord's time at the school was short lived, transferring after his freshman season to Sage Hill School for academic reasons. Burwell spent four seasons as the girls' track and field coach. She left for the chance to run a program at a small school.
The athlete and coach reunited this season at Sage Hill, and McCord has taken off as a junior. While McCord and Burwell no longer compete and coach at the Huntington Beach-based school, they found themselves in their backyard last week.
McCord put on a show. At the Ocean View Small Schools Invitational on Saturday, McCord set a Sage Hill record in the high jump. He cleared 6 feet, 9 inches, prompting Burwell to track down the meet director.
"I asked the meet director if that was a meet record, and he didn't know," Burwell said. "I kind of got upset.
"[The meet] was very laid back, almost too laid back."
The low-key atmosphere played a vital role to McCord's success. Competing close to home helped as well.
McCord is mellow, but how much he has improved in the high jump from last season isn't going unnoticed. He went from 6-2 to 6-9 in a year, and his latest effort ranks No. 2 in the state, 3 inches behind Eric Moore, who's from Rialto Carter.
The next goal for McCord is to hit 6-10, and he will have a shot this Saturday at the Orange County Championships at Mission Viejo High. The meet will be a lot tougher than last week's at Ocean View High.
McCord isn't afraid of the bigger stage. He's been to the Arcadia Invitational, where the best in the state and outside of it showed up a couple of weeks ago as they always do every year. McCord shared fifth place with a 6-6 mark. After looking at the school name on his uniform, many competitors had a question for McCord.
"[They] asked me what Sage Hill was," McCord said, and he answered with, "Just a small private school in Newport and we're pretty new."
McCord's school opened in 2000, and it still doesn't have a pit on campus to high jump. The school has a new track, barely enough for a straightaway sprint.
McCord practices at Concordia University in Irvine two days out of the week. Andy Multari, a Sage Hill alumnus and current student at Concordia, volunteers his time and works with McCord. The record McCord broke used to belong to Multari, who cleared 6-6 four years ago as a senior.
The rest of the time, McCord sprints with Burwell, a former 400-meter runner on the Oregon women's track and field team. Some days, when there's a lacrosse game at Sage Hill, McCord cannot even use the track. Instead, he and Burwell get creative and run hills.
"That's what's so amazing about this kid," said Burwell, adding that McCord spends two hours a week working on the high jump.
McCord hasn't spent much time on his event this season. Shoulder surgery on Jan. 3 sidelined McCord until early March.
When McCord joined the boys' track and field team, he was unable to perform the high jump because he couldn't land on his shoulder. While playing football in the fall, he fractured his left shoulder.
Football is McCord's favorite sport. He's the starting quarterback at Sage Hill. With the position have come injuries, the most serious one being a concussion.
"It's a concern, but he's worked really hard, so it's hard for me as a parent to take that away from, but I will if he gets hurt again," said Keith McCord, CJ's father. "Going through a concussion, where he doesn't know where he is [bothers me]. He ran a touchdown [in a game this season] and [couldn't] remember the play. He got knocked to the ground. He got up and came off [the field], and they saw him [on the sideline]. He passed the concussion test, went back in the game. He's in the game, and he asked his running back, 'What's the play we're running?'"
McCord doesn't remember anything about the game. He failed to get the right sport or location down when his father questioned him afterward.
"I thought it was basketball season at Edison," McCord said. "I thought I was going to Edison, like I just teleported onto [my former campus]."
McCord said he's happy he left Edison for Sage Hill. He can thank his father and mother, Sophia. They pushed the move because Sage Hill fit McCord's personality. Keith said Harvard has contacted his son for football and track and field.
"The difference for him was the personal attention," Keith said of what Sage Hill offered his son. "The things that he's good at, [Sage Hill] accelerated it. I don't think that would've happened at Edison. He still would've had the same talents, but it would've taken someone special like Darrien to figure out … what he's good at and get him the coaching and the attention. They are very good at … making sure that potential is maximized."
Burwell is trying to get the most out of her athletes. She said she only has seven girls and 45 boys this season. At Edison, she carried two times that amount and she guided the girls.
"It was hard leaving [Edison]," said Burwell, who led the Chargers to three Sunset League titles. "When I interviewed [at Sage Hill], I thought I was just going to interview and see what it's like to have a small program, because there's a lot of stress involved in a big program. I kind of thrived on that stress. Once I came to Sage, it was a good fit for me. I liked the idea. They want to be more competitive at Sage. They're kind of starting one sport at a time. We're trying to change the culture."
McCord is doing his best to help Burwell put Sage Hill on the map.
Born: Aug. 18, 1997
Hometown: Huntington Beach
Height: 6 foot
Weight: 155 pounds
Sport: Track and field
Coach: Darrien Burwell
Favorite food: Pasta
Favorite movie: "Memento"
Favorite athletic moment: Going undefeated with the Huntington Beach Pop Warner Chargers team in seventh grade.
Week in review: McCord cleared 6 feet, 9 inches, setting a Sage Hill record in the high jump and winning the event at the Ocean View Small Schools Invitational.