By Matt Jenkins
---- — The Bishop Fenwick and St. John’s Prep winter track programs are in a small, exclusive group.
As members of the Tri-County League, Fenwick and St. John’s have the option of teaching and competing in the weight throw, a throwing field event that looks like a shot put attached to a chain but requires a completely different throwing technique.
The Tri-County League supplies officials and measures the throws at meets, but they do not count toward scoring. The distances, however, do allow the athletes to qualify for postseason events, including next month’s New Balance Indoor Nationals.
Each program has been teaching the event for the last four or five years, and the response has been fantastic.
“They love it. It’s scary and cumbersome and a challenge for smaller-frame kids. It knocks the crap out of them,” said Bishop Fenwick head coach Jay Smith, who noted he only knows of four or five schools in the area that are involved in teaching the event.
“They love it for the challenge, and we can teach it in a way that they achieve success relatively quickly. It’s something that sets them apart — not unlike the pole vault. It’s one of those things where throwers from other schools, when they’re throwing 25 pounds 60 feet, people respond to that.”
Although the weight looks like a ball and chain, it does not hinder the athletes’ advancement.
Taking practice time away from the shot put — the winter’s main event for most weight throwers — might be thought of as detrimental to one’s development. But the coaches and athletes believe it helps to have multiple events on which to focus. It’s also a huge advantage for athletes who intend to continue throwing in college, where the weight throw is a normal event.
“It’s attractive to schools and programs looking at these kids,” Smith said. “They have experience when they get to college and they can hit the streets running.”
Technique is critical
Smith’s top two throwers — Maggie Lepley on the girls side and Patrick Corcoran of the boys team — both intend to throw in college, and their experience with the weight only adds to their track resumes.
“It’s really been a neat ride,” said Corcoran, a senior from Beverly who only picked up the event last winter. “It’s cool to say you throw it, because not a lot of people do. You can tell a college coach and they’ll say, ‘You know what that is?’
“I’m glad we’ve had the ability to do it and coach (Smith) is very open to an event that no one else does.”
Even though Corcoran’s weight throw development is still in its infancy, he broke the Bishop Fenwick school record for the event when he threw the 25-pound weight 58 feet 8 1/4 inches at the Dartmouth Relays last month. Fenwick graduate Shaun Farrell, who won the last two Massachusetts Scholastic championships, was the previous record holder at 58-2 3/4.
Lepley’s progress has been steady. She was introduced to the 20-pound weight (which is used in the girls event) as a sophomore and estimates that her best throw that year was 26 feet. Now, as a senior, she has thrown 37-8 3/4.
The technique, which calls for throwers to spin before launching the weight, is critical for improvement.
“Junior year I went from one turn to two. It’s harder getting more comfortable with the turns, but this year in the fall we were doing some turning drills and I had a good feeling. I do two now,” Lepley said. “The first turn is the slowest, and each turn you pick up the tempo and momentum. The people who can do three or four turns, the weight ends up going very far.”
St. John’s Prep’s top thrower, David Roy, had a bit of a technical advantage when he began throwing the weight.
Roy, whose best throw this season has been 54-10 3/4, spins to throw the shot put. It might have been only a small advantage to his adjustment, however.
“The first move for the shot needs to be wide,” Roy said. “In the weight throw every move needs to be tight and quick.”
At this point of the season, the Fenwick and St. John’s Prep weight throwers have to be tightening up their technique because this is the unofficial beginning of their season.
After spending most of the dual meet season basically practicing their throws (albeit sometimes in meet-like conditions in the Tri-County League meets), the athletes are now gearing up for their big meets, including the Massachusetts Scholastic meet and New Balance Indoor Nationals at The Armory in New York.
Like all other events, the weight throw calls for athletes to continue improving, especially late in the season.
“You get comfortable at a certain point, but you don’t want to get too comfortable,” Lepley said. “It’s not a goal to get good at one turn; you want to keep adding turns and keep practicing. You want to go out of your comfort zone and start getting the tempo down and get faster. That’s how you know that you can add another (turn).”
Each athlete has pretty specific goals for the rest of the season.
Corcoran wants to follow in Farrell’s footsteps and keep the Massachusetts Scholastic title at Bishop Fenwick. He’d also like to reach 60 feet.
Lepley, meanwhile, is aiming for 40 feet.
Ultimately, the biggest draw of this event for these athletes are the opportunities it presents. Corcoran, Lepley and Roy each intend on throwing in college.
Lepley’s first choice is Bates while Corcoran is looking at Holy Cross, Lafayette College, Catholic University and Rensselaer. Roy is deciding between four schools — Bucknell, Bryant, Sacred Heart and the University of Rhode Island — and has had contact with each coach.
“Mainly, my focus is on how when I get to college and I’m throwing I have a little knowledge about the event while, some other kids might come in without really knowing anything about it,” Roy said. “It’s good motivation to know it will pay off and that I’m already getting my practice in.”