But the Cartersville resident came back with a vengeance Sunday — clearing 7 feet, 1/4 inches to become the overall national champion in the high jump at the national meet at Greensboro, N.C.
The national title capped a dream season for Bearden after he returned to the high jump at Darlington while simultaneously playing baseball.
He said he had been unable to play two spring sports at Darlington and chose baseball four years ago. Then this spring he received permission to compete in both sports since there was no schedule conflicts centering around the playoffs.
Bearden, who graduated from Darlington in May, said he was the school’s best high jumper in the seventh and eighth grades but had not been involved since those years.
It meant his spring was filled with him and his dad working on jumping approaches, trying to figure out what worked best. The two also listened to coaches at the various meets and watched videos on the topic, trying to improve Bearden’s performances.
Bearden said he won his first meet by jumping 6 feet, 2 inches, then cleared 6 feet, 4 inches in a Marietta meet.
One of his proudest accomplishments was to top 6 feet, 7 inches at an area meet held in Floyd County.
“That beat the old school record of 6 feet, 6 inches, which had stood 35 years,” Bearden said. “It was the oldest on our record board and was a good accomplishment.”
That school record is now 6 feet, 10 inches.
The high jumper said his performance didn’t just surprise all the track teams on Darlington’s schedule.
“It was crazy. I never thought I could keep progressing the way I did,” he added.
But topping his school record was by no means his last surprise.
Bearden said at the state meet, he cleared 6 feet, 10 inches, making him the highest jumper in Georgia.
Somehow he saved his best jump for last, however.
In Greensboro he and another jumper both cleared 7 feet their first try.
Bearden then topped 7 feet, 1/4 inches on the first try. His opponent didn’t clear the height until his second try and the Cartersville jumper won when neither was able to raise the bar again.
Bearden said schools began to take an interest in him when he cleared 6 feet, 10 inches, but clearing 7 feet increased the intensity of that interest.
“Seven feet was the turning point where everyone wants you,” he said.
The Cartersville high jumper said he is weighing his collegiate options right now.
“I’ve been to a lot of SEC schools and a few ACC schools,” he said. “It’ll be a hard decision.”