From the stands at Mike Myers Stadium on the University of Texas in Austin last May, Sharon Neighbors watched nervously as her daughter Nicole competed on the state’s biggest stage.
“I was a bundle of nerves,” she recalls. “It’s worse with your kids. You just have to get over it when you are the one competing.”
Thirty-one years ago, Sharon Peyton was on the same stage, winning the Class 3A gold medal in the high jump. The then Bridgeport junior cleared 5-5 to claim the top spot.
“It’s still a special feeling when you’re first on the medal stand,” she said.
A strong athlete, Neighbors said it took a lot of lonely hours on the high jump mat to become a state contender.
“High jump is an event that requires a lot of hard work,” she said. “I spent a lot of time jumping by myself.”
As a sophomore, she narrowly missed earning a state spot. Neighbors tied for second at regionals but lost a jumpoff.
Her junior year, she held on for second at the 1983 regionals to earn a trip to Austin to compete for a state title.
Walking into the massive Memorial Stadium where the state meet was held at the time, Neighbors didn’t know what to expect.
“It was a unique experience,” she said. “It was very exciting and daunting.
“My junior year, there was no pressure to win, and nothing was expected. That helped me a bit.”
Neighbors missed her first two attempts at 5-4 before getting over the bar on her third attempt. With the bar at 5-5, she sailed over it. Her two competitors missed the height in their attempts, making Neighbors the state champion.
“All the hard work had paid off,” she said. “I worked extremely hard for that.”
Her senior year, she returned to state. After committing herself totally to training, changing her eating habits, she reached a new personal best of 5-7 at the state meet. She ended up with the silver medal as Brandy Stubblefield of Splendora jumped 5-8 for gold.
“My senior year I was proud of what I accomplished because I cleared the height that I couldn’t before,” Neighbors said. “I had more of a sense of accomplishment.”
Also during her senior season, Neighbors’s coach Tina Slinker helped her get the opportunity of a lifetime to work out with 1988 Olympic high jump gold medalist Louise Ritter.
“She gave me some good advice,” Neighbors said. “It was the highlight of the year to work with her for 30 minutes to an hour.”
Since her days on the medal stand, she’s been able to watch her daughters – Natalie and Nicole – compete on the state stage in cross country and track. From her experience, she tried to pass on some advice.
“Some of it naturally passed on with how Randy and I raised them,” she said. “I tell them, if you want to go that extra mile, everything matters.”
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