JaKeith “JaPoet” Hairston is a musician with a nearly finished record: “What if God was a DJ?” Faith helped Hairston with records at Science Hill.
He won state championships in the triple jump and long jump in 2002, which qualified him for the Adidas Outdoor National Championships at North Carolina State. A disappointing first day in Raleigh doing the long jump led to soul searching. Science Hill coach Ernest Hill woke up around 3 a.m., roused Hairston and they prayed.
Hill remembers saying, “JaKeith, we’ve done everything we know to do. We’ve practiced all these years. I mean I don’t know anything else to tell you, but there’s times in our lives we have to trust God.’”
Hairston woke up in a great mood and went out and set a personal record with a jump of 48 feet.
“He became Science Hill’s first All-American in track and field and came in second place,” Hill said. “I mean he was glowing standing up on the stand. The first-place guy got his medal and got his roses, but for JaKeith to jump that far and get second place in that national meet, I mean he might as well have been world champion.”
Hairston excelled despite jumping from sport to sport. He started in football and basketball. He scored 11 touchdowns as a senior. He ran for a 68-yard TD against Bearden, and returned a kickoff 95 yards and rushed 22 yards for TDs against Karns.
Hairston was a key cog as a sophomore when Mike Poe’s basketball team won the Arby’s Classic, a fun season that began with a surprising starting spot when the Hilltoppers opened the season in the Bahamas. Science Hill finished state runner-up to White Station during Hairston’s senior year. His three-point play with 2:17 to go gave the Hilltoppers a 54-52 lead and Rob Love scored their final six points in a 60-57 semifinal win against Nashville Stratford.
He had 14 points and eight rebounds in the regional final against Jefferson County while helping the Hilltoppers improve to 32-4.
“We’re 29-2 since JaKeith got back from a football injury,” Poe said afterward. “He gives us great leadership.”
The exacting Poe frequently praised Hairston, referring to him as a “guiding light” and providing “energy” that teammates and coaches “fed off of.”
Hairston had no energy during the first walk-through at the state tournament, and said avid booster Shirley Ann Chinouth was the first to notice he looked ill. Hairston says Poe and assistant coach Randy Ferrell were soon purchasing Pedialyte.
“Mrs. Chinouth was a sweetheart … always had a huge Ziplock bag of gum for us at games,” Hairston said. “That team (had issues). I think Rob had shin splints and something was going on with Bryson (Bowling). But we held it together and made it to the championship game.”
Hairston named too many teammates to mention while relishing the memories of his time at Science Hill. One was his brother B.J., an All-Arby’s Classic point guard when the ’Toppers won the title.
“It’s funny, but finally beating my brother in the high jump was one of the highlights,” JaKeith said. “My brother was the man, and I was like, ‘Yes, I’m finally out of his shadow.’”
Hairston was recruited by many D-I schools, but wanted to stay home and chose Milligan College, where he did track and basketball. The 6-foot-1 Hairston, who was fun to watch dunk in transition, made the AAC All-Freshman team in basketball and was an NAIA All-American in track and field.
He transferred to Middle Tennessee after two years. He won the Kentucky Invite’s long jump and jumped a personal best 24-10 1/4 as a junior to get an NCAA provisional.
“I ended up a few inches from being able to compete for the Olympic Trials my last year,” Hairston said, “but my passion was somewhere else – music, poetry, art.”
He’s reached the hearts of poets and musicians, including A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad. Hairston’s done poetry readings from Brooklyn to New Orleans and recorded music in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
“If you’ve ever been around JaKeith for more than 10 minutes,” Hill said, “his personality outshines anything he ever did on the track or the football field or the basketball court. He’s special.”