DOWNINGTOWN >> It’s hard to imagine a more perfect setup.
Both of Josh Hoey’s parents have extensive experience in track and field. And the Bishop Shanahan senior has an accomplished older brother who’s been a valuable role model, as well as a promising younger one who is a dedicated training partner.
Combine that kind of symbiotic family relationship with a lot of hard work and a bunch of talent, and you can see how Hoey has developed into one of the nation’s premier high school middle distance runners.
Already a state champion and a winner at the Penn Relays, Hoey was able to thrust himself into the national spotlight on Sunday by finishing the 800-meter run in a time that was the fastest in U.S. high school history. Competing against college and professional runners, the 18-year-old went to Boston last weekend and shaved more than a second and a half off the record.
“I was pretty blown away at the end of the race. But it was a nice surprise,” said Hoey, who lives in Downingtown.
In 2009, Robby Andrews from Manalapan, N.J., set the mark at 1:49.21. Hoey’s time at the Boston University Last Chance Meet was 1:47.67.
“I went into the race thinking that I would run about 1:49, and that was a time was going to be happy with,” Hoey explained. “So I am certainly enjoying this. But I’ve always had this mindset that there is always another race. So I’m really looking forward to the outdoor season.”
A DECISION MANY WEEKS IN THE MAKING
Hoey elected to miss last weekend’s Pennsylvania Track and Field Coaches Association (PTFCA) State Indoor Championships for his shot at the national record under more conducive conditions at BU’s indoor Track and Tennis Center. And it would up being the correct decision.
“I’ve always wanted to measure myself against the best competition possible,” Hoey said. “To get the opportunity to run in a college and pro race was something I couldn’t afford to not take. I thought it would give me the best shot at the national record.”
In addition, Hoey had captured the 800 state indoor crown a year before, so he had already crossed that off his list.
The idea to make a run at the national record first began to germinate in late January at the Virginia Showcase when Hoey ran a 1:50.8 split, and then the following day he established a new Pennsylvania high school record in the 1,000 (2:24.64), breaking a mark set all the way back in 1984.
“After that we kind of all got together and said, ‘hey, we can make a run at the 800 national record,’” said hid dad, Fran Hoey.
“I just felt really confident in my workouts, especially in the 800,” Josh pointed out. “I had the 1,000 the next day so I kind of let up a little at the line. I felt like I could do more.”
The trip to Boston was a calculated decision many weeks in the making. In early February, however, Hoey came down with a case of bronchitis, which jeopardized the attempt. By Feb. 15th, he was feeling better, so he competed in the 800 at the State College High School Invitational No. 3, and went 1:51.49 without wearing spikes.
“Afterwards, Josh said, ‘I think if I get the right opportunity, I can get close to the national record,’” said Fran, who ran track at Malvern Prep and La Salle University.
“I was slipping a little without spikes and I wasn’t able to go out as fast as I wanted,” Josh added. “That was when I felt I could run a sub-150. That was another instance where I came off the track and I kind of knew I was ready to run a lot faster.”
Josh and his dad arrived in Boston on Friday, and they later met up with Terrence Mahon, who is Hoey’s personal coach.
“We are not big on publicity, so we didn’t tell a lot of people we were doing it,” Fran recalled. “When I went in to pick up the race packet for Josh, the meet organizer asked me what we had hoped to run. I told him about 1:49.20, and 1:49.21 is the record.
“He said, ‘we’ll keep an eye on that.’”
During warm-up, Hoey wasn’t feeling 100 percent. In fact, the pressure of the moment was causing some pre-race jitters. His father, however, was able to calm Hoey down and help get him focused.
“I was a little nervous and my legs were jello-like,” Hoey reported. “My dad helped me get to the point mentally where I was confident in myself.”
ESTABLISHING A NATIONAL RECORD
It was a star-studded field for the 800, and one lap into the race Hoey started to worry that he’d pushed the pace a little too hard. But then he heard his dad’s voice from the infield: ‘keep running, keep running.’
“So I pushed it even more,” he said.
Midway through the race Hoey settled into a nice position in fourth place behind the pace-setter, professional runner Christian Harrison and college standout Dylan Capwell.
When the pace-setter dropped out, Hoey moved into third and maintained that spot until the final lap.
“It all kind of set up nicely for me,” Hoey said. “On the last lap, I was thinking about what coach (Mahon) told about trying to push the last 200. So I tried to get in front of Capwell and I was able to do that with about 150 to go.
“I just really went for it in the last 150.”
Harrison – who runs for the Boston Athletic Club — crossed the finish line first, and Hoey quickly followed. He immediately glanced at the scoreboard and saw 1:47.
“Then I saw that my dad was running across the infield, going crazy,” Hoey remembered.
“My first thought was, ‘this is unbelievable,’” Fran said. “I couldn’t believe what just happened. I was running across the infield jumping up and down.”
A meet official wondered what all of the excitement was about, and Fran told him that his son had just broken the national high school record. The official said: ‘no way!’
As father and son embraced, Fran said: “I am super proud of you and I’m glad to be your dad.”
Not long after, the record breaking feat was announced and the crowd erupted. A lot of the competitors, including some of the professionals, came up to Hoey for a pat on the back. And the race starter gave Hoey the cap he shot off from the starting gun, which is a tradition in track and field following a record-breaking performance.
As a sophomore at Downingtown West, Hoey took first place in the mile race at the 2016 Penn Relays. And after transferring to Shanahan, he nabbed a third place finish in the 2017 Junior Championships (1:49). So it wasn’t surprising when he became a highly sought-after college recruit last summer.
And when his older brother, Jaxson, decided to leave Penn State, the brothers started taking recruiting visits together. They narrowed the search to four, and eventually Oregon won out over Ole Miss, Arkansas and Virginia Tech.
“I was able to go through recruiting with my older brother,” Hoey said. “We agreed that Oregon was the place for us.”
Younger brother, Jonah, is a sophomore at Shanahan, and the two rarely do any training separately.
“It’s really nice having somebody to go through the trials of running,” Hoey said. “We know that no matter what, we have each other’s back.”
“And Jaxson’s been my biggest role model. He taught me how to run with everything I have.”
Hoey’s mom, Leslie, is the girls track coach at Bishop Shanahan. She wasn’t on hand for the record-breaking run in Boston because she was in State College for the PTFCA Indoor Championships along with Jonah and the Eagles’ boys’ coach, Pete Uhlman.
“I’ve been really blessed,” Hoey said. “My parents help guide me on a daily basis. They are pretty much the reason I’ve been able to have this success.”
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