Track & Field
Favorite athlete: Tom Brady
Favorite team: New England Patriots
Favorite memory competing in sports: 4x4 relay comeback at SOL league championship
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: My freshman year at the state championship in Shippensburg I didn’t know I needed a towel, so I had to use a pillowcase to dry myself off after a shower.
Music on my playlist: Casual listening - Elton John or just any 70s-80s music. When at a track meet, it can range anywhere between AC/DC to Meek Mill.
Future plans: Run track and field in college. I would love to be an Ivy league champion and help win a triple crown for Princeton.
Words to live by: “Talent sets the floor, character sets the ceiling” - Bill Belichick
One goal before turning 30: Have a good job that I enjoy so I can take good care of my family
One thing people don’t know about me: My eyebrows and lashes are different colors
By Ed Morrone
When the COVID-19 pandemic first struck in early 2020 and wiped out the spring season for countless student-athletes across the Delaware Valley, it put the future careers of many in doubt.
How long would this last? And how would the athletes, so used to the machinations of a daily training routine, respond to the layoff? With so much uncertainty swirling, some of these athletes packed it in for an extended period of time. Some would shake the rust off in time, while others may have drifted for any number of acceptable reasons. For some, the pandemic stopped promising careers on a dime, and that was the end of that.
Joey Gant was not one of those athletes who drifted into inactivity. Sure, in the extreme early stages when everybody was at home, Gant, a senior track and field star at Pennridge High School, was right there with them. He estimated that for about a month, he didn’t do much of anything, admitting to letting the laziness take the wheel. But you don’t earn track scholarships to Princeton University (more on that in a bit) by sitting on the couch, and although Gant didn’t know specifically where his future lay yet, he knew for sure that he wanted to run in college.
However, Gant soon found himself at a career crossroads. He had already made quite the impression as a sprinter in the 100m, 200m and as a member of the 4x400m relay team in his first three high school campaigns (freshman indoor and outdoor; sophomore indoor). Although not the best runner on the team yet, it was clear he was not far off from Pennridge’s extremely talented group of upperclassmen. With the pandemic stopping Gant’s surging momentum in its tracks, he had to do something to keep his trajectory moving forward.
So, he got creative.
“As much of a bad thing as COVID was, it was a blessing in disguise for me,” Gant said. “It opened up this new area of weight training for me, which I had skipped before so I wouldn’t be sore for races. I found myself getting lazy, and I realized I can’t be doing this. I figured maybe there would be a season eventually, and I wanted to run in college, so I can’t be sitting around all day doing nothing.
“So, I got in contact with some coaches at Boyertown High School, and four to five days a week I went there to lift and run. I did that all summer into the fall, and that weight training especially was really beneficial for me.”
Gant didn’t run any official races that spring, but his progress didn’t fall off a cliff, either. By his account, his development was still on track after a spring freshman season that saw him place second at leagues in the 100 and third in the 200 before finishing sixth at districts and 14th at states. And while Gant didn’t know it at the time, Pennridge’s veteran 4x400 relay team, which had runners bound for Princeton, Penn, MIT and UCLA, saw the freshman’s potential and took him under their collective wing.
“They helped me understand more about the sport,” Gant said. “But also how to progress as a runner.”
Despite no spring sports, Gant still made strides during the indoor winter season, taking eighth at states in the 200 while starting to dabble in the 400, all the while seeing his times continue to drop. However, Princeton (or any other Division-I school, for that matter) was not even a blip on the radar yet, and by his own admission, Gant entered his junior year “as a man on a mission.”
He remembered back to the states run sophomore year and how all seven runners who finished ahead of him in the 200 had graduated. To Gant, this meant that top spot belonged to him, and with the indoor track season still compromised due to the pandemic, it would have to wait until his first spring season since freshman year.
“Now, it was my time, and I had one goal: an outdoor state championship in the 200,” Gant said. “That’s what I was training for, and it was the one thing I wanted. Along with, of course, continuing our team success in leagues and contributing to any relays I could. But the main focus was the 200. I knew I could win it, too.”
But before Gant got to states, a lot still had to happen. He got off to a hot start when spring season finally returned, and along with it came a sudden twist of fate that Gant still can’t believe to this day. One of Gant’s former teammates, Anderson Diamond, a senior when Gant was a freshman, had gone on to run track at Princeton. Diamond reached out and told Gant that the Princeton coach had some interest, and would the school be a place that interested Gant?
“It took me by surprise,” he said. “I wasn’t talking with many Division-I schools, especially ones of that caliber. I was able to set up a Zoom call with the coach, and I loved the conversation I had with him. From there, I was like, ‘Well, if Princeton wants to talk to me, then maybe I should reach out to other schools.’ It exploded from there, with more schools coming to talk to me. It was pretty overwhelming, and I honestly couldn’t believe what was happening.”
The ‘more schools’ Gant was referring to had names like Harvard, Brown, Penn, Duke and Stanford. Still, in the weeks and months that followed, Princeton remained in the forefront of his brain. It gave him a new goal to shoot for, in addition to winning the 200 at states.
Everything culminated in the postseason that spring, first at the league championship, where Gant had what he called “definitely by far the greatest track performance I’ve ever had.” On that day, all he did was set personal records in the 100 (10.7 seconds), 200 (21.37) and 4x400 (3:23.12). With Pennridge’s school record holder in the 200 on hand to watch, Gant beat it. Then, for his encore as the relay team’s anchor, Gant took the final baton and came from the back of the pack more than 100 yards behind to pass every single runner ahead of him. The performance is still the stuff of legends in the Pennridge community, and cemented Gant’s own legacy as one of the best sprinters in school history.
“It was a feeling I don’t remember much because I was just going,” Gant recalled. “Catching up to the North Penn kid, it was the greatest race I’ve ever ran. It opened up a lot more college opportunities too.”
Gant went on to claim the District 1 3A championship in the 200 and finished runner-up in the 100. He was still on track to reach his goal at states, but a hamstring injury that was already starting to bark at leagues and districts (Gant blames his loss in the 100 on the injury slowing him down) reared its head at the worst possible time. Because he was pushing himself so hard toward states, Gant’s recovery time wasn’t sufficient enough. But because he is as good as he is, still made it through preliminary races in both the 100 and 200 at states.
Then, during the 100, Gant’s hamstring finally gave out on him.
“It was 30 degrees, absolutely freezing, and I’m just trying to keep warm before the race,” he said. “We started racing, and about 40 meters in, I knew something was wrong. I heard a pop, and it felt like I had gotten shot in the back of my leg. I just dropped to the ground, and I knew it was all over. For a few weeks, I was very upset. Just besides myself that I would hurt myself in the moment I had been looking forward to all season.”
Luckily, the injury did not scare Princeton away. This past August, the coach told Gant that if he applied to the school, it was a done deal. In the end, Princeton ended up being the only school Gant applied to.
Ending up getting a scholarship to one of the top universities in the world still stops Gant in his tracks, and he often pinches himself just to make sure he’s not unconscious in some sort of dream sequence. In less than two years, he went from having his sophomore spring season wiped out to the Ivy League, and it all seems so surreal even still.
That being said, is it really that surprising? After all, Gant is one of the top sprinters in the state and has earned every single accomplishment that has come his way. If you spend enough time talking to Gant, it becomes evident that even if he won a gold medal in the Olympics, he probably would demur when asked to sing his own praises. It’s just not his style, and at the end of the day, Gant is an extraordinarily humble young man. He is acutely aware of the opportunity in front of him, and he doesn’t want to seem ungrateful. Boasting about it incessantly, he said, almost feels disingenuous. Plus, all he’s accomplished so far is getting into the school. The real work still awaits, and Gant knows it.
“My old Pennridge coach, Bob Hosier, always preached the importance of being humble,” Gant said. “He always told me that there was no need to express myself in obnoxious ways. People know if you’re good or not, because the times are what they are and any accomplishments speak for themselves. I don’t like talking about it and for it to come off like I’m showboating.”
Hosier stepped down this past summer, retiring after almost 40 years as Pennridge’s track coach. His indoor and outdoor replacement for this year, Craig Stephens, has only known and worked with Gant for a little more than two months. In that short time, Stephens has been absolutely blown away, not just by Gant’s speed and talent, but also the way the senior carries himself.
“He’s the whole package, just all of that and more,” Stephens said. “First, he’s academically awesome, obviously, because he’s going to Princeton. As a leader, he’s so good that it’s like having another assistant coach. He was leading the team workouts all fall before I even got there. When someone is the total package, with the grades and the character of that kid, it opens doors to every single school that there is.
“Him being humble about it, that’s just Joey being Joey. And if you look at Princeton’s roster, it’s not just the best of the best in this country. It’s the world. Sometimes I wish he had more of an ego…I just wish he would feel like he deserves it, because he does. He’s not arguably the fastest runner in Pennridge’s history: he is the fastest. He’s as good as it gets.”
Of course, in typical Gant fashion, he continuously demurred anytime he was led toward a path that ended with him singing his own praises. Instead, he heaped effusive praise on his parents for moving mountains to get him to his races. Many times, they would travel handfuls of hours to far off states for him to show up and run for 20 or 30 seconds. When asked what he is most excited about once he gets to Princeton, Gant said the fact that he will be close enough to home for his parents to come watch him compete at his home meets.
Gant isn’t sure of an exact career path yet, but plans on majoring in economics, pointing to an interest in the stock market as a possible calling. He and Princeton will work together to figure that out, and, in his words, “I’m just going to ride the wave and see where it takes me.”
He still has goals to win a state championship in either indoor or outdoor track for his final season which is in progress. At the same time, he has his hamstring in mind. It’s 100 percent healed, but the last thing he wants is to blow it out again with Princeton still ahead of him, so at this point, the rest of the year is house money for Gant.
His most exciting days are likely still ahead of him, but these past four years have been pretty special as well. Princeton is an amazing school, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy to leave Pennridge either.
“What this place helped teach me is that nothing is easy, and the world doesn’t give you things for free,” Gant said. “Nothing is free. There will be a lot of challenges and setbacks, and you’re not always going to win. You’ll lose a lot. I did a lot of losing freshman and sophomore year, but through all of that I grew and I learned and I was able to improve myself for the future. I’m sure I’ll get to Princeton and I’ll fail a test or struggle in some classes, but I’ve seen that you can get past all of that.
“Just keep learning and growing, because it’s going to help in the future.”