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Winchester Thurston's Richards in class by herself

| Friday, April 20, 2001

Frank Richards first got his daugther Cassidy into track to help her outgrow an awkward stage in her youth.

'She was goofy,' Richards said. 'She was a head taller than her classmates, from Kindergarden on up. I did a little running in high school. I figured that would get the goofiness out of her.'

Track did a lot more than that for Cassy Richards, who has grown into one of the top track athletes in the state and one of the best long jumpers in the country.

Cassy Richards has a track resume that is difficult to match. She has been the top-ranked long jumper in the nation by the USTFA for three years. She finished fourth in the long jump in Junior Nationals the last two years, but was the top finisher among high school athletes both times.

'When I go to junior nationals, I don't see other people as any level above me,' Cassy Richards said. 'I see them as competitors. I want to beat them. We are all ahtletes.'

Her high school did not join the PIAA until she was a sophomore, but Richards has dominated the WPIAL and state level the last two years.

As a sophomore, Richards won WPIAL titles in the 200-meter dash, 100 hurdles and long jump, then won state titles in the hurdles and long jump while taking second in the 200. Winchester Thurston took third in the PIAA Class AA team competition even though she was the only competitor there from the school.

Last year, Richards did not compete in the 200 due to a hamstring problem, but she defended her WPIAL and PIAA championships in the 100 hurdles and long jump, setting records in both events at both meets.

She was named Pennsylvania Female Gatorade Athlete of the Year in Pennsylvania for track.

'That's the one I'm really proud of,' Cassy Richards said. 'I had no idea I could even be put in a category to be compared to the other athletes in the state. That was just amazing.'

Richards has already signed with Wake Forest on a full track scholarship. Richards has grown up going to the academically-focused Winchester-Thurston, so the strong academics of Wake Forest were a draw for her.

'It's a blessing,' Cassy Richards said. 'I wanted a school with a great academic program and track. Wake Forest had it all. The small classes. I am used to that learning environment. Ever since Kindergarden at Winchester Thurston, I got used to the whole one-on-one relationship with student and teacher.

'I don't want to run track my whole life. I want to be famous outside track.'

Frank Richards is currently his daugther's coach, although she has had others with the River City Elite, a track club.

He is hoping the staff at Wake Forest will help take his daughter to another level. Wake Forest head coach Annie Schweitzer Bennet was a six-time All-American and an NCAA champion distance runner herself.

For now, Richards is focused on her high school career, particularly the long jump. She is not running the hurdles due to the hamstring problem, which she has battled for two years.

The long jump is Richards' specialty and an event she loves.

'I've been doing it since I started track,' Richards said. 'Just hitting the board ... when I jump into the air, I don't think about anything. I can't describe it. It's very relaxing.'

Getting to compete in high school was not relaxing. That required getting the school to join the WPIAL. Basically, they were doing it for one athlete. Others have come out for the team at one point or another, but Cassy Richards is currently Winchester Thurston's only competitor on the track.

'Her school is more of an academic school,' Frank Richards said. 'We asked the school if we could become a member of the WPIAL. The (WPIAL and PIAA) championships are where people see her, not the backyards meets we were competing in. It took them a year, but they paid the money and we are in the WPIAL.'

'At the time, I didn't think it was important to me,' Cassy Richards said. 'I thought I could just run anywhere. Now I am very happy my shcool did get in the WPIAL. It gave me a chance to run agianst people I woudln't have run against. I have a lot of competiton. I wouldn't have had that.

'It's great. I got my shcool's name out there and my name out there. I am happy they did that.'

Richards laughed about her father's refernce to her being awkward, then talked about how much she appreciates what track has done for her.

'Because of track, I've been so determiend to win,' Cassy Richards said. 'I would practice every day, if it was raining or snowing, I'd be outside running. I would stick to it. Whatever I wanted to be, I'd stick to it till I got it.'

Frank Richards seems to have gotten a lot out of the decision as well, even if it did mean a lot of work as a coach.

'She's my baby,' Frank Richards said proudly.

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