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Keeping track of field events not always easy
Keeping track of field events not always easy
By STEVE NOVAK
Many centuries ago in the beginnings of Olympic competition, the ancient Greeks believed that tests of athletic ability should go beyond foot speed and include both throwing and jumping.
If you gaze down at the far end of a stadium during a track meet, you will find that there is still a lot of throwing and jumping taking place. The ancient Greeks had an idea that has lasted through the ages.
While the running events dominate a track meet, there is always the grunt work being done by the shot putters and discus throwers. Then there's the jumping events -- the long jump, high jump and pole vault.
All of these are the events that do not need a stopwatch. Instead, rulers and tape measures are the standard equipment for the judges.
When it comes to the throwing competition, one local athlete who needs a pretty long tape measure to keep track of his efforts in Gilmour Academy's Tim Vala.
So far this season, Vala has thrown the 3.9-pound discus a distance of 169 feet. That's the best effort of his high school career and also a Gilmour Academy record.
Vala, a senior, does not have the Paul Bunyan-type gigantic size you might expect for a weight-throw event. He is 6-foot-3 and weighs 205 pounds, but his upper torso isn't bulked up, or over-muscled.
Vala's coach, James Chappelle, said that his ability to throw the disc more than half the length of a football field comes largely from the speed he achieves as he spins before he throws it. His speed is also evident in other events, as he is part of the four-by-100-meter and four-by-200-meter relay teams.
"He's not the biggest kid. It's more his technique. He glides. He's super fast in the ring. He's almost catlike," Chappelle said. "He has good running speed. A lot of it is generational, too. His father was a shot putter."
Vala's father, Tim Vala, holds the Cleveland St. Ignatius High School shot-put record of 65 feet. His son also throws the shot put for Gilmour, and he has several throws that have measured 48 feet this season.
But the younger Vala readily admits the discus is his bread-and-butter event. He said he can feel when he has let loose with a good throw, even before the discus hits the ground.
"You get the right follow-through, and you just know," he said. "It's like in baseball, when you hit the ball on the sweet spot of the bat. You just feel it," Vala said. "My dad says you know it's right when you don't feel it leave your hand."
Another notable local athlete in the weight throw events is Solon High School's A.J. Hicks. Although he's only a sophomore, Hicks already has thrown the discus 159 feet, 11 inches. He did this at a meet early in this season.
According to Solon track coach Dan Iwan, Hicks already has shown that he's one of the elite disc throwers in the area.
"This young man is only a sophomore, and we think he has a chance to throw 170 feet," Iwan said.
That's exactly what Hicks thinks, too. The 16-year-old said he'd like to try to extend his throwing range in the remaining regular-season meets this spring as a prelude to the district and regional competition.
"I want to be able to hit 170 (feet)," he said. "My coach said I can do it. I think I can throw farther during a meet. You get all that adrenalin pumping."
The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Hicks has another goal. He wants to qualify for this year's state track and field finals. He missed qualifying as a freshman last year by the smallest of margins.
"That's a funny story," Hicks said. "Last year, I made regionals. I placed fifth. My best throw was 143 feet, 3 inches," he said. "The guy who placed fourth and qualified (for state) threw 143 feet, 4 inches."
Hicks' best effort in the shot put this year is 49 feet, 11 inches. Because of his combined shot put and discus performance in last weekend's Ranger Relays in Lake County, Hicks was named the most valuable athlete in field events for the two-day meet.
In the shot-put competition at the Ranger Relays, Hicks recorded his personal season best of 49 feet, 11 inches, which was good for second place. The winner was Jerod Kedzior, of St. Ignatius, with a toss of 52-feet, 3 inches. Then Hicks recorded a first-place throw in the discus with a toss 158 feet, 5 inches at the Ranger Relays.
But it's the circular discus and not the 12-pound shot put that seems to be the favorite of Vala and Hicks. Vala said he also has his sights set on making it to the state track and field finals this year.
In the 2008 state finals, Vala's best effort was 163-feet, 10 inches, and the winning toss was exactly 10 feet longer, a winning effort of 173 feet, 10 inches by West Liberty's Nat Bratka. Vala's toss was the fifth best in the Division III finals, and he's been thinking about a return trip ever since then.
"I have such a bigger goal this year. My first time at state, I didn't do my best," he said. "That 163 feet at state -- I just think about it too much. So, with my second time down there, I don't want to waste it. I want to do a lot better."
To get some idea of a high school pole-vault competition, imagine for a moment the basket rim in a high school gymnasium. Then imagine the remaining portion of the backboard above the net.
The top of the backboard measures about 13 feet. Solon's Chadd Pierce has pole vaulted nearly three feet higher than that height already this season.
Pierce, a senior at Solon, jumped 15 feet, 6 inches at the state indoor track and field finals earlier this year. That was good for second place. During the outdoor season so far this spring, he has recorded a jump of 15 feet, 3 inches. He has jumped several inches higher than this 15 feet, 3 inches during practice sessions.
"My goal is to break 16 feet this season. I'm very excited about that," Pierce said.
As is the case with most good scholastic athletes, Pierce keeps getting better each year in his chosen field of competition. Last year, in the Division I state track and field finals, Pierce finished third with a best effort of 14 feet, 8 inches.
Throughout this current outdoor season, Pierce has mainly stayed in the 15 foot and above range. This is about a 50 percent improvement over the first time he picked up a pole vault when he was a freshman and cleared about 10 feet. Pierce said his decision to try pole vaulting came from a bit of competition with his older brother, Jay.
"My brother is a good high jumper." Pierce said. "He said you'll never beat me in the high jump. So I said, I'll just do the pole vault and beat you in that." Jay had a best effort of 6 feet, 9 inches when he was a senior at Solon in 2006.
There are multiple steps involved before a good vaulter finds himself or herself above the bar and heading back to earth. Pierce said it took him more than a year to finally feel comfortable with planting the pole vault in the approach box in front of the jump pit. From that point, he starts his jump with the boost he gets from the pole.
"Now I have a really good plant," he said. "I get a really good running start, so I get upside down (at the top of his jump) really fast."
Pierce's coach, Iwan, said his success in the pole vault is aided by the fact that he's also a hurdler. He runs both the high and intermediate hurdle events. These events help to keep both his speed and leaping ability in top form.
"He's a hurdler, and that's definitely helped him in the pole vault," Iwan said. "He has really worked hard on his speed. He maximizes his talents. He has a great work ethic."
If Pierce is one of the better vertical jumpers in the region, University School can claim a pair of the best horizontal jumpers. In the long jump, the Preppers have the talents of Justin Chappell and Julius Cartwright.
So far this season as a senior, Chappell has recorded a best jump of 22 feet, 4 inches. That mark came last weekend, when Chappell won the long jump at the Trinity Invitational. Cartwright nailed a jump earlier in April that measured 20 feet, 5 inches.
Chappell's jump at the Trinity meet was good enough to set a school record. University School track coach Peter Zappas said the jump beat the old school record by two inches. Chappell is also an excellent sprinter, providing a long and fast approach to get his body in the air.
Chappell's speed is already in the books. Chappell holds the school record in the 100-meter dash in 10.84 seconds and the 200-meter dash in 21.93 seconds.
Zappas said Chappell's speed is the equivalent of having an extra powerful airplane engine before takeoff.
"He has more power and speed. He's been built like that since he was a freshman," Zappas said. "He runs farther than just about anyone I've ever seen. He gets way back for his approach run, and he builds up speed and power that way."
Cartwright, who is only a sophomore, has a different style of jumping than his older teammate. Zappas said that Cartwright has more natural leaping ability, and doesn't need the extended runway that Chappell gives himself in his lengthy approach run.
"Julius has a lot of pop. There's a little bit of lift when he gets in the air," he said. "He has jumped 20 feet, 5 inches already. That's pretty strong."
With only a few weeks left before the postseason leading up the state finals begins, Zappas is pretty well assured that Chappell's speed will make him a likely candidate to go to state competition in the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes, along with perhaps one of the relay teams.
Last year, Chappell placed second in the state finals in Division II in the 200-meter dash. He was also a member of the University School four-by- 200-meter relay team which won the state finals in Division II last year with a time of 1:29.
But Zappas feels that with the prospect of perhaps qualifying in three running events, along with the long jump, Chappell will have an added incentive for the state finals.
"I think he'd love to make state in all four events," Zappas said. "He wants to. He wants to do it. He's a senior, and it's his last hurrah."
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