Virginia Tech high jumper Ronnie Black aims for new heights in track, classroom

Virginia Tech high jumper Ronnie Black has set school records.

Menchville High graduate and Virginia Tech high jumper Ronnie Black at the VT Invitational. (Michael Shroyer/Virginia Tech, Daily Press / January 14, 2012)

Like all high jumpers, Virginia Tech's Ronnie Black wants to raise the bar. He's cleared impressive heights, set school records and earned All-America honors.

But he wants more. He wants to go higher.

He wants to go 4.0.

"I had a 3.87 last semester," Black said of his pursuit of classroom perfection.

"He was real disappointed because in organic chemistry he got a B-plus," said Black's mother, Helena.

A junior majoring in chemistry and psychology, Black had just completed a three-hour lab and was preparing for track practice as we spoke. He competes in academics as fervently as he does in athletics.

"Excelling in the classroom is just as important to me as excelling on the track," said Black, a Menchville High graduate.

Two weeks ago, Black won the Virginia Tech Invitational indoor meet with a personal best and school record leap of 7 feet, 31/4 inches. The previous Hokies mark of 7-1 had stood for 29 years.

Last year, Black set Tech's outdoor record of 7-11/2 at the Penn Relays and finished seventh at the NCAA Championships to claim his first All-America honor.

"We both have a real clear understanding that we can go as high as we think we can," said Charles Foster, who coaches the Hokies' jumpers. "He's a gung-ho kid. He does like to train, there's no doubt about it.

"We didn't think he'd go 7-3 quite this early. … He thinks he can go 7-5, and I'm saying 7-5? He says, 'Coach, 7-5 and 4.0.' Who am I to squelch those dreams?"

Black hails from a track family. Helena ran the 400 meters and long jumped throughout Europe while in the Air Force. Black's sister, Christie, competed in the heptathlon and pentathlon at North Carolina State, and while at Menchville she teamed with Yvette Lewis and two others to win a national indoor title in the 4x55-meter shuttle hurdle relay at the 2003 Nike Invitational.

At Menchville, Black cleared 6-8, good but not great, and played volleyball just for fun. He matriculated at VCU and after a runner-up finish in the Colonial Athletic Association meet decided to get more serious about track.

Part of Black's transformation was mental. Part was physical — as a teen he grew from 5-foot-8 to 6-5.

Seeing better facilities and competition at Virginia Tech, Black transferred.

"He came for a visit, and we liked what we saw," Foster said. "We liked his ambition, his lofty goals. I don't put any limits on my athletes.

"He's forewarned me. He's said, 'Coach don't be surprised if you see my name in lights.' "

A high jumper's name in lights? That's a status reserved for record-holders and/or Olympians.

And this is where Black's ambition becomes tricky.

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