Family First: NBNI, USATF Jr. LJ champ Devin Field undeterred by eligibility issue

Devin Field after winning the NBNI long jump in mid-March. Donna Dye/ESPNHS

Devin Field doesn’t hold any bitterness toward the Texas University Interscholastic League (UIL) for ruling him ineligible to compete this spring for DeSoto High School or denying him a chance to defend his state titles in the long and triple jump.

The truth is, he is in violation of the UIL’s residency policy because he doesn’t currently live with a parent. Field understands that, and if it means jumping in the junior varsity section of DeSoto’s meets – a ludicrous scenario for the national champion – so be it.

“It bothered me at first,” Field said.

The high school junior has already seen enough of the track and field world – including trips to the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Oregon, Idaho, Florida and New York – to know how to set his goals higher than a Texas state title. Earlier this month, despite an ailing lower back strain, he managed to win the New Balance Nationals Indoor long jump title at the Armory in New York City.

If permitted, he would like to compete at the Texas Relays and Arcadia Invitational – unattached if necessary – in order to have some semblance of a season. Beyond that, he is determined to graduate early and enroll in college next January.

Either way, Field wouldn’t change any of the decisions that led to his UIL eligibility issue.

Blown off course

Elissa Field had to think fast, but really there was no other choice but to heed the warning and evacuate Port Arthur.

It was the third week of September, 2005, and Hurricane Rita was headed right for the Texas coastal city. The single mother of three might have stubbornly stayed put and rode it out, but not this time. Not after watching New Orleans drowned by Katrina just a month earlier. Forecasters said Rita was just as big as that.

She loaded her kids in the car, grabbed armloads of their clothes, some important papers, and her nurse’s uniform. “We rode around for hours,” she said. “I didn’t know where to go.”

Elissa knew a friend in Dallas and so she decided to go in that direction. The freeways were jammed. A six-hour trip took 15 hours.

“We stayed in a hotel,” she said. “We ended up staying there for three months.”

It was a disruptive move for Devin, her middle child. He lost his focus in the turmoil, lost ground at school, and was forced to repeat the sixth grade.

When Elissa returned to Port Arthur to survey the damage, she found that one of the large trees in the yard had been uprooted and had crashed into the side of the house. There was very little that she was able to salvage.

“When it happened, it was kind of stressful,” Devin said. “Before that week our life was based on staying in Port Arthur.”

The fortunate turn was that one of his friends in his new school in Dallas asked him to come out for the track team in the seventh grade.

“When I started trying to see where I fit in, I knew I could jump and I started trying to hurdle (too),” Devin said. “Coach said ‘try the triple jump’ and I beat everyone in the triple jump.”

He continued to play football into the ninth grade, but it became apparent that pure athletic talent fit track and field better.

“I knew Devin was gifted since he was five years old,” Elissa said. “But I never pushed my kids (into sports). If that’s what you want to do, then I’m behind you.”

Devin entered Lancaster High School and gravitated toward Vincent Johnson, the jumps coach. They became close and the freshman began to think he’d found a mentor and father figure. Johnson asked his athletes what they wanted to do with their lives.

Devin’s reply was immediate: “I want to go to the Olympics.”

A national name

Devin won the Texas 4A title in the long jump as a freshman, then won it again for Lancaster last year as a sophomore. He took the triple jump, too.

In the spring of 2011, Devin was churning out 24-footers like they were automatic. He set a goal to make the Junior Pan Am team and went to the USATF Juniors in Eugene, Ore. to try and qualify. Once there, he would have to compete with 19-year-old college freshmen in order to place in the top two and make the U.S. team.

Devin did even better than that, popping a 24-2 on his first attempt and the working his way up to 24-8.50 in the fifth round. He won the title by a quarter inch. A mere inch and a half separated the top four places.

At the Junior Pan Am Championships in Miramar, Fla., Field was on his game again, going 24-10.50 to win the gold medal.

But the summer also brought change. Coach Johnson accepted a job at Kansas State University. Elissa found out that her mother’s cancer had resurfaced after 15 years in remission. She wanted to go back to Port Arthur and help take care of her.

For the sake of the family, Devin was willing to move back to Port Arthur.

“Devin’s a family person,” Elissa said. “Family comes first and he said ‘Let’s go.’ We dropped everything and left and went to Port Arthur because I was worrying so much about (my mom). It was a relief for me that Devin went for it and (my daughter) Kayla went for it.”

Devin and his younger sister enrolled in Port Arthur Memorial, but there were problems from the outset. He had a difficult time getting into the classes that he knew he needed in order to graduate early. He felt he couldn’t find a sympathetic ear and he knew he would find a better academic climate back in the Dallas area.

He tried Port Arthur Memorial for two months, but came to the realization that he needed to move back. In November, he moved in with a family friend, Trent Gamble, one of the assistant coaches for the Texas Faces track club. Gamble lives in DeSoto, seven miles due east of Lancaster. So Devin entered DeSoto, where he quickly got into the classes he needed to be in to stay on schedule for early graduation.

The move was tied to academics more than sports. That’s why when the eligibility issue arose, Devin didn’t worry about it. He works out daily with DeSoto track athletes, but probably won’t be able to pursue a state championship with them.

“He is a great kid,” said DeSoto coach Mark Brady. “I mean, for having to bounce around the way he has, he’s very respectful and has great work habits. I do wish we could run him somewhere this year, but the rules say you have to live with your mom.”

Devin’s grandmother is back in good health now, cancer-free once again. Elissa plans to move back to the Dallas area with Kayla in April. That could alter the eligibility verdict, but even if it doesn’t, Devin has made peace with it.

With or without a season in Texas, the junior is focused on his goals. He wants to fly past 26 feet in the long jump, go beyond 51 in the triple jump. He’d like to get his 110-meter hurdles time down to a cool 13.8. And he’d like to wear the Team USA uniform again this summer, at the World Junior Championships in Barcelona, Spain.

Devin said it occurred to him a few weeks back that if it hadn’t been for the hurricane, his track career may never have left the ground back in Port Arthur.

So he is focusing more on what he has than what he doesn’t have.

“Maybe the storm (was a blessing),” Elissa said. “If it took Rita to push us out of (Port Arthur) to see the light we should have seen, to get my kids to their destination, then it was a push we needed.”