Thomas Jefferson’s Wagner leaves mark with school record

Friday, June 28, 2019 | 6:36 PM

Zach Wagner knows how to make a grandiose exit.

At the final meet of his high school track career at Thomas Jefferson, Wagner broke a 27-year-old record at the WPIAL Class AAA championships at Slippery Rock.

Wagner posted a time of 22.26 seconds in the 200-meter dash to narrowly beat the previous school record of 22.3 set by Theo Banks in 1992.

“Zach has had an amazing track career, and we are proud he was able to break Theo Banks’ record,” TJ coach Bill Paull said.

Wagner was a four-year letterman for the Jaguars and the team’s top sprinter for four seasons. He was a WPIAL finalist four times, a PIAA qualifier once, and won several MVP awards at some of the bigger meets in the area.

Prior to breaking the record, Wagner’s best time in the 200 was 22.59. He also posted an 11.1 in the 100.

“During my track career at TJ, I had some ups and downs along the way with several injuries that set me back each season,” Wagner said. “Breaking my foot in football right before track season really hurt me, and my hamstring injury was another big setback for me. But I was able to work through it. My will to never stop running and finish strong forced me to continue to work hard work through the pain and focus on myself, my team and my times each meet.

“Not only did I have a positive mindset, I had some amazing coaches that believed in me, encouraged me and had faith in me. Without coach (Bill) Paull, coach (Kevin) Gennaula and coach (Cedric) Love constantly pushing me beyond my limits, my dreams may very well have been left on the track.”

Wagner, who also played football for three seasons, did not learn he had broken the school record until early June at the TJ track and field banquet held at the GBU building in Jefferson Hills.

“Breaking a school record was always in the back of my mind,” Wagner said, “but with so many talented athletes in our district, I wasn’t sure if my dream would become a reality. Little did I know at the very last meet I would run as a Thomas Jefferson track athlete, I would break that record.

“Coach Paull and coach Gennaula honored me with a heartfelt speech and two framed pictures of my achievements, memories that will last me a lifetime.”

Wagner plans to attend Pitt-Johnstown and major in criminal justice. He also will continue his track career.

“I will be running for UPJ with coach (Carl) Kiefer and look forward to competing as a college athlete. I chose UPJ for several reasons,” Wagner said. “First, I wanted to stay closer to home, so my family would still be able to come to my track meets. I have been to UPJ in the past and just fell in love with the campus. It just always felt like a perfect fit for me.

“The education also played a role in that they offer what I was I interested in, and at the end of four years, I will have a degree from Pitt. My mom and several generations of my family are Pitt graduates. After meeting with and talking with coach Keifer, I felt a bond with him. He made me feel like he was genuinely interested in me succeeding as a student and an athlete, as well. I didn’t feel like just another kid or just another number. After meeting some other athletes, I just felt it was a perfect fit for me. I did not always get that feeling after visiting some of the other schools.”

Wagner, whose sister Molly, who will be a senior in 2019-20, is a three-year letter winner and the top sprinter on the TJ girls track team, is most modest; and thankful to many people.

“I would just like to thank everybody that played a role in making me the person that I have become today,” he said. “My mom, dad, brother and sisters that never missed a race. I could always hear them in the crowd. My coaches for all their hard work and dedication molding me into the athlete I became. My little sister Molly; I will miss running with her as we have been running together for years, cheering each other on sharing the good times and disappointing times.

“Time waits for no one and as excited as I am to start this new chapter in my life, closing the old chapter is hard. So many memories, so many friends, so many good times.”

In 2018, Wagner traveled to North Carolina, where he represented Midas Running Club as a 100-meter relayer. He was coached by Maurice Lucas.


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