Fourteen months.

That’s how long DeJuan Croumbles’ brief, yet burgeoning track and field career has spanned.

“They didn’t even know I was fast at first,” Croumbles recalled. “I was a jumper until they threw me in the 4×1. And then they were like, ‘Yeah, you’re a sprinter.’”

And now a WPIAL champion, too.

Croumbles, a junior who attends The Neighborhood Academy, a small, private school in Stanton Heights, became the first student from his school to win a WPIAL title in any sport when he ran a time of 10.73 seconds to claim a gold medal in the Class 2A 100-meter dash at the WPIAL championships last Wednesday at Slippery Rock University.

“I was proud of myself but the goal wasn’t really to win for myself. It was to represent my school which hadn’t won a WPIAL championship in any sport,” said Croumbles, who lives in West Mifflin. “It was like I had a chip on my shoulder to make everybody who was counting on me proud. But my goal is to win states. This is just a step.”

Croumbles, the No. 1 seed in the 100, will try to take the next step and become the first TNA student to win a state title when he competes in the PIAA championships Friday and Saturday at Shippensburg University’s Seth Grove Stadium.

Croumbles came to TNA his sophomore year after attending Nazareth Prep and Carrick for parts of his freshman year. He played basketball for TNA as a sophomore, but didn’t see much time.

“We tried to get him out for indoor track, but it didn’t work out,” TNA track coach Ron McMichael said. “We got him out for outdoor [last season], and he was pretty solid from the start.”

Croumbles showed a lot of potential and even qualified for the WPIAL championships in the 100 his very first season after running a season-best time of 11.37 at the Pine-Richland Invitational. But Croumbles was plagued by hamstring problems throughout the season, which forced him to miss a few meets and had him at less than 100% when he ran at WPIAL’s. Croumbles didn’t reach the final in the 100 at WPIAL’s after running a 12.38 in preliminaries.

“It was very discouraging, but I was very proud of myself for even making it that far for less than a year doing track,” Croumbles remembered. “I just saw my potential and knew I could grow from there.”

And grow he has during a second season in which he has gone from darkhorse WPIAL title contender to WPIAL champion.

“I tend to treat him like a thoroughbred,” McMichael said. “We work hard, but we don’t work long.”

The Neighborhood Academy’s DeJuan Croumbles was all smiles after winning a gold medal in the Class 2A 100-meter dash at the WPIAL track and field individual championships May 15 at Slippery Rock University. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Croumbles made his name known this spring courtesy of some excellent performances in the 100 at a few of the bigger invitationals, as he was the runner-up at the Baldwin Invitational, placed fourth at the Butler Invitational, and won the South Hills Classic. His top regular-season time of 10.84 seconds tied him with Greensburg Central Catholic’s Aidan Allison for the top qualifying time in WPIAL Class 2A.

“I’m big on the mental part of it all,” said TNA sprints coach Shequayla Bey. “DeJuan last year, because of him just starting, I don’t think he was as confident as he is now.”

Running healthy at WPIAL’s for the first time last week, Croumbles saw his confidence rise even more after running the fastest time in preliminaries (10.98 seconds) and then the fastest time of his career (10.73) to sprint to the convincing win and WPIAL title. Washington’s Dane Asbury was second (10.98) and Fort Cherry’s Tegan Henk third (10.99).

Croumbles is one of several TNA athletes who qualified for the PIAA championships, which is pretty impressive considering the school doesn’t have a track. The Bulldogs typically practice indoors while occasionally practicing outdoors at Shady Side Academy. TNA’s 400 relay team will compete at state’s after placing second at WPIAL’s. Croumbles runs the anchor leg on a team that also includes senior Delon Evans, junior Tarik Phillips and freshman Chase Brown. Brown also qualified in the 400 after finishing sixth at WPIAL’s.

Considering Croumbles has only been involved in track and field for just over a year, his fast rise has been impressive to witness, and the speedy ascent might not stop anytime soon.

“After summer track and indoor season, I can only imagine where he’s going to be this time next year,” said Bey, also a coach with Future Stars who will continue to coach Croumbles this summer.

And who knows, before this week ends, Croumbles could be a state champion.

“It would mean a lot,” he said. “I went from the bottom of the barrel and I made it to the top.”

Hampton’s Dale Hall, Ringgold’s Ryan Pajak and Butler’s Drew Griffith will all compete at this week’s PIAA track and field championships. Griffith is the No. 1 seed in the Class 3A 1,600 and 3,200. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Top seeds

Croumbles is one of more than a dozen qualifiers from the WPIAL who will go into the PIAA championships seeded No. 1 in their respective events. The seeds are based on times and marks produced at district championship meets.

Butler’s Drew Griffith is the only WPIAL athlete seeded first in two individual events. Griffith, who is seeking his first PIAA track gold medal, is the No. 1 seed in the Class 3A boys 1,600 and 3,200. Dale Hall of Hampton, last year’s 1,600 champ, is seeded ninth. Also in Class 3A boys, Penn-Trafford’s Matt Sarnowski is the top seed in the discus. Sarnowski outlasted Hempfield’s Peyton Murray to win the WPIAL title. Murray is the defending PIAA champion.

Defending champion Logan St. John Kletter of Mt. Lebanon is the No. 1 seed in the Class 3A girls 3,200, an event in which she set a new meet record last season. St. John Kletter is the No. 2 seed in the 1,600 behind defending champion Olivia Cieslak of Haverford. North Allegheny’s Jamie Frisco is seeded first in the shot put.

Joining Croumbles as No. 1 seeds among Class 2A boys are Mohawk’s Jaxon Schoedel (3,200) and East Allegheny’s Lorenzo Fancher (triple jump).

Avonworth/Northgate’s Hayzes Robinson is the top seed in the Class 2A girls 100. She hopes to join older sisters Hunter and Hayden as PIAA 100-meter champs. Robinson also runs on the 1,600 relay team that is seeded first. Laurel’s Tori Atkins (400), Trinity Christian’s Eilidh Edgar (800), Shady Side Academy’s Chelsea Hartman (3,200), Derry’s Sophia Mazzoni (javelin) and Winchester Thurston’s 400 relay team also earned top seeds. Mazzoni’s mark of 159 feet is 25 feet farther than anyone else in the field.

Scoop sidelined

Woodland Hills sophomore Scoop Smith ran a scorching time of 10.64 to win the Class 3A 100 at the WPIAL championships, but Smith won’t run at Shippensburg due to an injury.

Smith injured his hamstring while running in the final of the 200 at WPIAL’s. The injury caused him to finish in last place and will force him to miss four to six weeks, Smith said earlier this week. Smith, also a football and basketball standout, is one of the WPIAL’s top athletes.

With Smith, the No. 4 seed, out of action, Canon-McMillan’s Colton Dean, the WPIAL champion in the 200, appears to be the district’s best hope for producing a PIAA champion in the 100, something that has not happened since Gateway’s Julius Rivera did it in 2013. Dean ran a 10.74 at WPIAL’s and is seeded eighth. George Washington’s Shaun McCoullum is the No. 1 seed after running a 10.35 at the District 12 championships.

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at

Brad Everett

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at