In sixth grade, freshman Baird Johnson decided to try out for his middle school track team. A young runner, Johnson impressed his peers and coaches at Wagner Middle School with his quick times and fast improvement. A year later, he qualified for the New Balance Nationals Indoor meet—one of the most elite high school and junior high school Track and Field competitions in the nation. There, he competed with 32 seventh- and eighth-graders and ran a sub-five-minute mile, finishing first among those in his grade and 12th in the race overall.
Fast-forward to this year: Johnson has not only adapted to the high school level, but he has become a dominant force in the Public School Athletic League (PSAL). In his first season with the Greyducks, Stuyvesant’s boys’ Cross Country team, Johnson finished first in three of his five races in the fall.
This past winter, he found himself on the podium in 10 out of 14 Indoor Track events, one of which was a second place finish in the 1600-meter race at Borough Championships where he ran a time of 4:37.49 (four minutes, 37.49 seconds)—his personal record (PR). Though 1600 meters is just shy of a mile, after a small conversion, his time was fast enough to qualify for New Balance Nationals once again. This time, he finished with a time of 4:38.90, which, against the abundance of tough competition, earned him a 22nd place finish. He was glad to be invited back to the event, but wishes he could have come away with a quicker time, “I ran pretty close to my PR, but it could’ve gone better.”
In his most recent season, Outdoor Track, he earned podium spots in the 800-meter run, the 4×800-meter relay, and the 3200-meter run, in which his 10:06.79 time earned him first place in the PSAL Freshman/Sophomore City Championship. His 3200-meter time was cut by more than a minute since the Indoor Freshman/Sophomore City Championship.
Due to his thorough résumé and the many accolades to his name, many are left to wonder what special qualities make him the phenom he has proven to be. When asked about what makes him special, he humbly replied that he has had “the best possible luck with coaches and people to run with,” accrediting much of his improvement and success to those who helped him along the way.
Among these people are the upperclassmen he has met at Stuyvesant, including senior Kiyan Tavangar. He recalls meeting members of the team during the summer, before school started, and learning to keep up with the faster pace. He smiled when remembering his first day trying to stay with the pack. “I collapsed before the end,” he laughed, “and Kiyan came back to see if I was okay—I was—and then he went off to catch up.”
He expressed his gratitude for the seniors this year, who have all taken them under their wings. Stuyvesant running was a big change from what he was accustomed to in middle school; the practices were more structured, and the team followed specific workouts, none of which he had done in middle school. “I didn’t know how to do any of these things, so without them I still wouldn’t know how to do any of these things,” he explained.
With three more years at Stuyvesant, Johnson discussed his excitement for seasons to come, asserting that he would love to keep winning borough championships and making it to the State Championship for Cross Country. This will be tough, considering the Greyducks’ top three scorers—Greg Dudick, Tavangar, and Harvey Ng—are all graduating this year. “We’re [going to] need to work to maintain us going to states in the top four every year,” he said, admitting the challenge of such expectations. For now, he will continue to work hard to achieve his personal goals, which include getting his mile time down below the 4:30 mark.
Next year will be tough without Tavangar and the other seniors, but he is glad to be representing a promising future for the Greyducks. In the final moments of our interview, Johnson made one last comment: “It’s interesting. I hand off to Kiyan most times in our 4×800 [relays].” His remark was no doubt acknowledging the ironic role reversal of Tavangar metaphorically handing him the baton of his legacy.