This is the first in a series of six articles profiling the Mars Athletic Hall of Fame's Class of 2019.
CRANBERRY TWP — Justin Piocquidio joined the track and field team at Mars with the goal of staying in shape for football.
It soon became his main athletic focus, however, and he graduated in 2008 with five individual medals between WPIAL and PIAA competition.
His efforts — in the long jump, high jump and relays — helped Mars claim the WPIAL Class AA team title in 2007.
Piocquidio will be inducted into the Mars Athletic Hall of Fame Sept. 6.
“It's definitely an honor. I never thought I'd be looked at as a hall-of-famer,” said Piocquidio. “I'm glad that I was part of a winning team and for what I was able to contribute.”
Piocquidio had never competed in track and field before joining the Planets as a freshman in the spring of 2005.
“After I spent some time with the jumps and getting the form down, it was clear that was my niche,” he said. “I was consistently earning points for the team and started to excel.”
He earned his first of four WPIAL medals in 2006 by placing third in the long jump.
“The high jump was difficult, from a purely physical standpoint, said Piocquidio. “Most of the high jumpers were a lot taller than me (5-foot-8), but with the long jump, I had good short-distance speed and jumping ability and that helped me succeed.”
His sophomore season ended with his first trip to the state championships in Shippensburg, where he placed 19th.
“It was impressive,” Piocquidio said of the meet, “with all those different teams and athletes.”
The next spring, Piocquidio placed second in the WPIAL in the long jump and fourth in the high jump, but it was the WPIAL team crown that sticks out most for him. Mars walloped its three opponents in the finals — Riverside, Southmoreland and New Brighton — each one by no less than 24 points.
Piocquidio contributed to the title with overall wins in the long and high jumps.
“We had strong athletes and everybody had their special area. There wasn't a lot of overlapping talent,” he said. “Track can be an individual sport, but that team had good chemistry and everyone played a part.”
By the time his senior season began, Piocquidio had been to the state meet twice, competing in a combined three events the previous two years. His best finish was 17th in the long jump as a junior.
“It was disappointing, the way states turned out my sophomore and junior year,” he said. “It was important for me to get back and do well there as a senior.”
He first had to qualify for Shippensburg, which he did by placing third in the district in the long jump. He then finished fourth in the state the following week.
“I remember having a couple of good jumps that I faulted on,” said Piocquidio. “I think I had the ability to win, but it just wasn't my day to do it. I was still very proud of what I did out there.”
Piocquidio's speed was also valuable on the track. In both 2007 and 2008, he helped the Planets' 4x100 team finish with the fastest time in Butler County.
Piocquidio's efforts still resonate through the Butler Eagle's track and field honor roll. His long jump of 22 feet, 10½ inches in 2008 ranks as the fourth-best effort ever turned in by a Butler County athlete.
Piocquidio attended Penn State Behrend and now works in software sales. He credited several people with helping him to the hall of fame.
“(High school coaches) Joe Cioc and Brandon Rios spent a lot of time developing me as an athlete and an individual,” he said. “My parents, John and Becky, and my brother, Dean, were a huge support line for me.”