If you've been a sports fan long enough, then it's pretty likely you've witnessed many of the great duos throughout sports history. Ruth and Gehrig, Shaq and Kobe, Jordan and Pippen, Montana and Rice, Gretzky and Messier, Koufax and Drysdale are just a few that come to mind.
Well, Mansfield Senior high jumpers Maurice Ware and Amil Upchurch make up a pretty outstanding duo themselves, clearing one bar at a time on their way to the summit.
Now, that's not to suggest they are in that class of royalty, but you get the point. They fit the bill and pass the eye test with flying colors.
One can be described as a pure dynamic leaper who launches like a rocket in mid-air after takeoff. The other can be painted as a smooth craftsman who is as precise and efficient as they come.
"They're different," said Mansfield boys and girls track and field coach Tyree Shine. "If you wanna describe Maurice, he's more explosive and stronger. He's raw, with good control and strength. Upchurch is more of a technician and finesse guy with some hopping ability."
It's quite possible that no high school in the state of Ohio possesses a pair of track teammates as good in an individual event as Ware and Upchurch are in the high jump.
Having coached track in the city school system in Mansfield for four decades, Shine is accustomed to seeing and developing young talent, especially jumpers. Since taking over the head coaching role with the Tygers in 2017, he has trained standouts like Joe Ellis, a 2017 high jump state champion who cleared 6-feet, 10-inches at the state meet, and more recently Angelo Grose, a Ohio Cardinal Conference champion in the long jump who also cleared 6-8 in the high jump.
Shine said he sees Ware and Upchurch in the same way and believes both are now operating at the highest level in their prep careers.
"They're third-year jumpers now," said Shine, who makes it clear both would be four-year jumpers if the COVID-19 pandemic hadn't canceled their sophomore years. "Their consistency this year is why they're ahead of where they were last year at this time.
"Mentally, physically, matureness. They have that all now. They're so mature now that they help me coach the girls high jumpers sometimes. That frees me up where I can help other kids."
Upchurch said success in the event is as much mental as physical.
"For me, it starts with a mental preparation for the jump because it's usually higher heights we'll be trying to clear," he said, explaining his mindframe before jumps. "Then speed, approach, technique, our form, how we arch going over the bar and having the right amount of force in our step to get up over it."
"Usually, my first jump, I try to make it perfect," said Ware. "But if we miss, we look at videos that were recorded of us. We'll ultimately look at them to see what we did wrong in our jumps. That's how we improve."
Shine said a major key for the two seniors, who also played basketball for the Tygers, is a singular focus on track this time around.
"Big difference this year is that they're present everyday compared to last year," said Shine. "Sometimes I would only get them, at most, twice a week because they both played AAU basketball. Don't have that problem this year because they both decided to give that up. It shows in their week-to-week performances."
With more time devoted to track, Ware and Upchurch have both made the necessary improvements and tweaks needed to raise their games.
"I'm definitely blessed with my legs," said Ware, the MVP of the 43rd Mansfield News Journal All-Star Basketball Classic in March. "I worked extremely hard over the summer — with basketball and becoming more athletic day-by-day — and spent plenty of time in the weight room. I honestly don't think there are a lot of kids that work as hard as me, but my athleticism is what really helps me."
"I work on it everyday," said Upchurch, in his second year at Mansfield after transferring from Ontario. "We do a lot of things that help us prepare like box jumps, training, weightlifting and exercising."
All that work has culminated into the 6-foot-3 Upchurch and the 6-foot-2 Ware separating themselves from the rest of the field at meets.
At the Mansfield Mehock Relays, they both cleared 6-0 for their highest jump and finished tied for first place. At the Bill Krause Invitational in Tiffin, both cleared 6-4 with Ware coming in first and Upchurch second.
"Ware spent a lot of time working on his weakness, which was his form and technique," said Shine. "Upchurch is stronger this year. He's worked on his strength more. They both have the same goal and that is to clear 6-10 or better outdoors."
The Tygers' outdoor high jump record of 6-10 is held by Ellis and the school indoor record is 7-0 by Brandon Wilson in the early 2000s, said Shine.
Shine said both are within reach for his two leapers.
Each might have executed his peak performance of the season at the Marion Night Relays ... and the thing is, neither came away the winner that day.
Ware leaped over a 6-8 crossbar, his personal best and the meet record, but finished second after he just missed clearing the bar on his last of three attempts, which would have secured him the win. Westerville South's Reign Winston went on to win the event. Upchurch cleared 6-6, tied for a personal best, while placing third.
The heights they cleared at the Marion Relays ranked first and third highest in Division I at that point in the season, and Ware found out the next day he had become the No. 1 Division I high jumper in Ohio.
"It felt great because at first I was eighth in the state and like 353rd in the United States," said Ware. "I cleared 6-8 at the meet and next morning when I wake up, it showed that I ranked first in Findlay [rankings], Northwest Ohio [rankings], Division I [rankings], state of Ohio [rankings] and 35th in the United States."
Ware and Upchurch both have their sights set on clearing higher than 6-8 before the season ends.
"I'm looking to get to 6-8 or 6-10," said Upchurch. "I really feel that's reachable for me and Ware both."
"I'll say before state, I'll end up getting 7 feet," said Ware confidently.
"We have a couple weeks of track left. Their goal is to get to state and try to win. I tell them, 'If you wanna clear 6-10, set your sight to 7 feet. So that way, if you fall short, hopefully you fall past 6-10,'" said Shine, chuckling.
This is nothing new. Shine knows it and is fully aware. Ware knows it and so does Upchurch. Shine has been coaching Ware for three years and Upchurch for about 4-5 years. He's seen it routinely.
This persistent battle where they duke it out for the No. 1 spot at meets has been ongoing. A mano a mano contest between teammates. Right down to the very end.
"Oh, they were like that last year, too," said Shine. "They're capable of beating each other on any given day."
"I would say it's pretty competitive," said Upchurch, who was the AAU district and regional champion in the high jump last summer and qualified for the AAU National Championships in Texas. "We're used to being the last two in most of the meets we jump in. We always look at each other and say, 'Hey, let's go do this, let's have fun and let's go compete.' If one clears it, most likely the other one does it next."
"Well, ever since junior year with Amil, it's always been us two," said Ware. "We've tied in some meets. We've shared first place before. Sometimes, I've come second and he's come first. As far as the competitiveness, I feel like we've moved up a notch this year. We push each other."
That was certainly on display during the 2021 season.
Ware was the Ohio Cardinal Conference champion, with Upchurch coming in second. Upchurch was the Division I district champion and qualified for the state meet, where Ware placed second.
Even though they're chasing the same prize on the track, the adage "iron sharpens iron" factors in fully. Both guys not only put out their best effort but help each other in the process.
"There's no anger towards each other when we're competing," said Ware. "If I clear 6-6 and he misses 6-6, I'll watch his videos and tell him what he needs to do. He tells me right off the bat what I need to do and I'll tell him. So, it's really friendly but it can also get competitive at times."
"Very competitive but friendly," said Shine. "They don't envy one another."
Asked if each of them take certain qualities from one another and incorporate it in their jumps, both said yes.
"Yeah. I've done more strength stuff, which is one of his specialties in why he is a very explosive jumper," said Upchurch, who says his favorite high jumper is Mutaz Essa Barshim, the 2020 Summer Olympic Games gold medalist. "He's been working more on form, which I was better at. We've both been working on each other's weaknesses and improving in those spots. I think that's helped us both."
"Yes, Amil has a real good approach when popping off his foot," said Ware, who said he also looks up to Barshim and texts frequently with Oklahoma freshman Kason O'Riley, the 2021 Nike Outdoor Nationals high jump champion, and Auburn senior Dontavious Hill, a two-time U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association All-American in the event. "Instead of taking two hard steps like I do, Amil just runs and pops off. I'm learning day-by-day on how to do that. He has a real good approach when doing that."
So who's the best between the two?
"Man, I don't even wanna get into that," said a smiling Upchurch. "Honestly, both of us are really talented, both wanna go far and whatever height we clear, that's what will determine that."
A little hesitant, Ware replied, "As of right now, on form, him. But as far as just getting up over that bar, it's me."
Both are two of the best high jumpers in Ohio. Both visualize themselves making state. Both expect to be on the podium at the state meet. Yet when it's all said and done, they're each aiming to complete the difficult task of clearing that 6-10 bar.
"I want the personal record of clearing over 6-10," said Upchurch.
"The biggest accomplishment for me right now, that I know I can get, is clearing 7-0," said Ware.
"They're both capable of clearing 6-10 between now and the state meet," said Shine. "I just stress to them to stay humble, stay focus, and good things will follow you cause there's so much distraction with the attention you get. If they stay in their zone, they'll be OK."