Tonight will be anything but just another day in the life of Gardena High senior Charles Mabry.
After competing in the state championship track and field meet at Cerritos College, the high jumper will rush to the senior prom--he hopes. Gardena's prom is being held on a boat this year, and Mabry hopes to arrive at the dock by 9:30, the scheduled departure time.
"When I get to the track meet, I'm going to tune (the prom) out," said Mabry, who will check in at Cerritos College at 5:30 p.m. "I'm going to leave my watch up in my bag."
Mabry won last week's L. A. City title with a personal-best jump of 6 feet 5 inches. He has come a long way since being discovered as a high jumper by an assistant coach three years ago.
Mabry said he was surprised how quickly he took to the sport.
"We had five high jumpers on the team, and, at the beginning of the year, everybody else was jumping higher than me," he said. "But by the end of the year, I exploded on them."
Still, relatively speaking, he was a novice. His top mark for the year was 5-8.
"By my junior year, I got my arch down really well, which helped me a lot," he said.
But his rate of improvement didn't satisfy him.
"I was pretty upset that I only got fifth (in the City finals) last year, so that gave me an extra push this year," Mabry said.
He will have to keep pushing himself if he is to have an impact in the state meet. Ten other high jumpers have better qualifying marks, including Katella's Kevin Carlson, who tops the field at 6-9 3/4.
"My eyes got big when I saw some of those marks," Mabry said.
But he said he is confident that he will improve his personal best tonight. As far back as a year ago, he recorded a 6-6 jump in practice.
"I did everything correctly on that first (6-6 jump)," Mabry said. "From the arch to the run, everything was on--I remember that feeling well.
"I can probably get 6-10 if I do that again."
Last week in the City finals, Mabry was over the bar at 6-8. "But I got kind of lazy and my elbow dropped," he said.
Mabry said he was otherwise primed for the City meet at Birmingham High in Van Nuys. He gave his Mohican teammates, particularly triple jumper Henry Fraijo, pole vaulter Larry Merritt and shotputter Robert Walker, credit for motivating him.
"My friends were pushing me, saying, 'You know you can do it,' " Mabry said. "They all pump me up.
"We all have that drive because we love (track and field). They're pushing me to knock it out--first the City title, then the state title."
Gardena Coach Bill Berry and his staff have been doing their part to get Mabry to emulate a former Olympic great.
"They keep mentioning Dwight Stones," Mabry said. "So I try to pattern my jumping off of him.
"They've showed me a tape of him, and I've been watching that every time I get the chance. And then they brought a video camera here to tape me jumping."
By comparing his form with that of Stones, Mabry has learned at least one valuable lesson.
"I have to use my arms more," he aid. "I'm not using my arms at all. I'm just jumping with straight leg power. If I use my arms, that'll give me an extra five inches."
The high jumpers with the nine top marks in tonight's preliminaries will advance to Saturday's state finals, also at Cerritos College. Mabry is confident that he will be participating both days.
Mabry said 6-8 will be good enough to advance to the finals, and the records of his competitors also suggest that. Only seven high jumpers in the field have qualifying marks of 6-8 or higher.
"I'll probably be nervous, most definitely," he said. "But I'm going to try to focus everything I've got on that 6-8 jump."
The 6-foot, 173-pound Mabry said he plans to continue his track career at Los Angeles Southwest College or El Camino College next year. Later, he wants to transfer to USC to study electrical engineering.
For now, of course, he's busy worrying about a 6-8 high jump. And once that's accomplished, he has to start thinking about 9:30, because he has a boat to catch, after all.
His date for the prom, Laneia Moore, has been understanding about Mabry's need to be at the state meet, he said.
"She's nervous, but she said it's OK," Mabry said. He added with a laugh: "I just might have to rent a helicopter, that's all."
There are 28 entrants in each event in the two-day state meet. After tonight's preliminary round, nine entrants per event will advance to Saturday's finals.
Each CIF section sends a set number of competitors in each event to the state meet. The Southern Section sends five, the L.A. City Section and the North Coast Section each send four, the Central Section, Central Coast Section, Sac-Joaquin Section and San Diego Section each send three, and the Northern Section, Oakland Section and San Francisco Section each send one. Gates will open this afternoon at 3, when the field events get under way. Running events will begin at 5.
On Saturday, gates will open at 4 p.m., when the field events start. Two hours later, track events will begin.