The coronavirus pandemic helped Providence Catholic senior Jack Wajda make history.
Wajda’s first love is baseball, but he also loves basketball.
He has been a solid player with a strong inside game.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, and there was no baseball or basketball to be found, he headed out to his driveway in Mokena and decided to mess around with some long-range shooting.
With more and more shots going through the hoop, he was onto something.
“I started shooting in the driveway because I was bored,” he said. “I was really good junior year hitting 3-point shots, so I guess the hard work paid off.”
Though he was asked to mix it up inside more during his senior season, he got a chance to show the state his long-range bombing ability as he won the Class 3A 3-point shooting contest hosted by the Illinois High School Association March 12 at the State Farm Center on the campus of the University of Illinois in Champaign.
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He nailed 12 out of 15 shots in the preliminary round and 10 of 15 in the final.
He moved on to face the Class 1A, 2A and 4A winners for the King of the Hill round and hit eight shots. Cole Certa of Bloomington Central Catholic wound up the King with 12.
“I wasn’t nervous, but I was excited to have a great opportunity to shoot at Illinois,” Wajda said. “I felt good going into it, so I thought I was going to do well.”
That put an exclamation point on his basketball career. He is now back to playing baseball for the Celtics, one of the top teams in the state according to some polls.
He also plans on continuing his academic and baseball career at Chipola College, a junior college in Marianna, Fla.
His basketball coach at Providence, Kyle Murphy, enjoyed watching his player shoot for the last time.
“It was a great experience and an awesome accomplishment for Jack,” he said. “The competition started with a total of 512 shooters from 32 different regionals across Class 3A. He is the first basketball player in Providence Catholic history to win the 3-point state championship.”
Murphy added that Wajda was a captain and three-year varsity player at the New Lenox school.
"Jack is one of the toughest and fiercest competitors I have coached throughout my career,” Murphy said. “This year his teammates voted him team MVP. What’s funny is he played inside for us because we lacked size and he did not have as many opportunities to shoot threes as he did his junior year. … I am now second-guessing that strategy.
“What makes Jack great and I think why he was able to win the 3-point contest was his confidence and ability to block out distractions and focus. It is also the same reason he is such a good pitcher.”
Wajda said his interest in baseball started a long time ago.
“Baseball has been my love since I’ve been 3-years old,” he said. “I love the art of the game. Sometimes you have to be crafty. Sometimes you have to play with power.
“In baseball, all athletes can play. You had Prince Fielder who was huge and slow, and you have Noah Syndergaard who is all muscle and very athletic and they can both be on the same playing field," Wadja said of Fielder, a retired first baseman for the Milwaukee Brewers, Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers, and Syndergaard, a pitcher for the New York Mets.
The Celtics were ranked 10th in the state in the preseason by Prep Baseball Report and sixth among Class 4A teams.
Other Celtics who have committed to college from the baseball team so far are Ryan Hussey (Notre Dame), Alex Alberico (Kent State) Drew Zemaitis (Xavier) and Shaw Stukel (St. Ambrose).