Latham named Gatorade Connecticut Athlete of the Year in boys' track and field

Fitch's Tyler Latham, who won the javelin during the Class MM state meet on June 3,was named 2014 Gatorade Connecticut Athlete of the Year in boys' track and field on Friday. Latham won two events at the State Open and captured the state decathlon title Wednesday.

Tyler Latham stepped to the starting line for the 400-meter race Tuesday, his fifth and final event on Day 1 of the CIAC decathlon state championships.

He had "exhausted himself," according to coach Rich Kosta, by starting so strongly in the first four events. But Latham somehow managed to find that extra surge that helped him break Fitch High School's 38-year-old school record in 49.86 seconds.

The old record, 49.96, was set by Elbert Perry back in 1976.

He capped his brilliant career a day later by winning the prestigious state decathlon title and Friday, the day he graduated from high school, Latham was named the 2014 Gatorade Connecticut Athlete of the Year in boys' track and field.

"It's hard to talk about Tyler without sounding cliché, but he's always had that extra drive as far as attitude and work ethic," Kosta said. "In the six seasons I coached him (three indoor, three outdoor) he was never injured, never missed a practice ... and then it all kind of just clicked this year and he was able to step it up a notch.

"He had a great senior year. He was truly the leader of our team, by example and by his actions. He conscientiously led. Sure he wanted to do well for himself, but he wanted to do equally well for the team."

He accomplished both goals.

Latham, who has accepted a scholarship offer to attend Central Connecticut State University this fall, led the Falcons to an unbeaten dual-meet season, the Eastern Connecticut Conference Large Division championship, the ECC Championship meet team title, a fourth-place finish in a highly-contested Class MM state meet where the top four teams were separated by only 10.5 points, and a third-place finish at the State Open.

Individually, he swept his three speciality events - the 110-meter high hurdles, 300 intermediate hurdles and javelin - at the ECC and Class MM championships, then added wins in the 300 hurdles and javelin at the State Open before Wednesday's satisfying win in the decathlon, where he became the only athlete in the field to break 6,000 points (6,304).

Latham leaves Fitch with outdoor school records in the 300 hurdles, 400 hurdles, 400 meters and as a member of the sprint medley relay team, as well indoor records in the 55 hurdles and sprint medley relay.

And Kosta found some irony in the fact that Latham's final school record came in the 400, a distance he ran for the very first time indoors as a sophomore.

"The 400 isn't some race where you go out and sprint the entire thing, but that's what he tried to," Kosta said. "Well that didn't work, He finished the race, fell to ground exhausted and later he said to me, 'Well, I didn't do that right. How can I do it better?' ... from that point on he was never afraid to ask 'How can I get better?'

"He approached academics the same way. Tyler was always complaining about people fooling around and wasting his time in class because he couldn't learn."

The annual Gatorade award honors students who combine "athletic excellence, high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character on and off the track." Latham, who graduated Friday night, had a 3.44 GPA in the classroom. He also volunteered as a youth track instructor and official, donated time on behalf of Students Against Destructive Decisions, took part in Fitch's peer-mentoring and student-leadership programs, and participated in community service initiatives in association with the National Honor Society.

As the state honoree, Latham now becomes a finalist for the national award in track and field, which will be announced later this month.

c.banning@theday.com

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