Onakpoma jumps to New England title

Naugatuck’s Fejiro Onakpoma, right, and Antoine Sistrunk, left, are pictured at the New England track and field championship Saturday at Veteran’s Stadium in New Britain. Onakpoma won the triple jump title and Sistrunk took fifth in the event. –CONTRIBUTED

Naugatuck’s Fejiro Onakpoma, right, and Antoine Sistrunk, left, are pictured at the New England track and field championship Saturday at Veteran’s Stadium in New Britain. Onakpoma won the triple jump title and Sistrunk took fifth in the event. –CONTRIBUTED

NEW BRITAIN — Success in sports sometimes requires a leap of faith. When Naugatuck senior Fejiro Onakpoma decided to join the track and field team for the first time last season he wasn’t sure what to expect. All he knew was he was going to give it his best effort.

As Onakpoma leaves Naugatuck High School, he does so as a New England champion, a State Open champion and a two-time Class L champion.

Facing the best in all of New England, Onakpoma won his fourth championship of the season Saturday by winning the triple jump at the New England track and field championships at Veteran’s Stadium in New Britain. He took the title with a jump of 47 feet and 1.5 inches on his first attempt.

“The New England Championship is really an awesome experience going up against some of the best athletes I have ever faced,” Onakpoma said. “I think competing last year at the New England gave me a little more confidence this year. I just went at it with the same routine trying to keep everything consistent.”

After his junior season on the basketball court in which the Greyhounds made their first appearance in the state championship game since 1974, the 6-foot-3-inch Onakpoma was looking to stay in shape and was recruited by head track coach Ralph Roper.

Roper wasn’t sure what he had but he did know that Onakpoma was an athlete with a will to succeed. Onakpoma made quite an impression last season, as he helped the boys track team to its first NVL title since 2010 and finished as runner-up in the triple jump at the NVL championship.

Onakpoma went on to win the Class L state championship in the triple jump, finish fifth at the State Open and then eighth at the New England championship in Saco, Maine.

After a rebuilding season on the basketball court this year — one that Onakpoma led the team in scoring with 15.5 points per game — the Naugy leaper left his mark on the track and field team. Onakpoma not only won the NVL championship in the triple jump, but finished third in the high jump. He was named the meet’s Outstanding Leaper for his effort.

That’s when the lights began to shine a little brighter for the Springfield College-bound athlete. Onakpoma went out and won the long jump (21 feet, 9 inches) and triple jump (46 feet, 10 inches) at the Class L state championship.  He qualified for the New England championship for the second year in a row by winning the triple jump at the State Open with a jump of 47 feet, 1.5 inches, not far off the school record of 47 feet, 8 inches set by Amanze Williams.

“As the season went along I began to gain some momentum,” Onakpoma said. “My routine was coming together and I started to get the technique down. What an amazing feeling it is to be the New England champion.”

What made it more special was having his teammate and fellow senior Antoine Sistrunk at the podium with him on Saturday. Sistrunk, a first-year jumper, took fifth in the triple jump with a leap of 40 feet, 11.75 inches to cap his high school career.

The success Onakpoma has had may not have been in the cards without a leap of faith, and some help from his coaches.

“All of my coaches helped me to succeed as an athlete,” Onakpoma said. “But coach Matt Basile was truly special the way he supported me and helped me to achieve all that I have.”