There were a lot of fantastic moments at the TSSAA Spring Fling last week.
There always are when that many state titles are on the line.
But in that procession of awarded medallions and giant trophy presentation ceremonies, some valuable moments and lessons can get lost amongst the glitter.
This year the most valuable words that could be shared didn’t make print and won’t be found in the mountain of digital data produced in Murfreesboro. They came from an obviously disappointed Kyle Mitchell just outside the shot put area at MTSU.
The Alcoa senior hadn’t yet gone to the medal stand for his third-place medallion. It was obvious he’d wanted more, to stand two steps higher and give Alcoa one more moment at the end of an illustrious prep career. Talking to him at that moment for some insight, his voice carried as flat a bass note as can be imagined as he talked about his performance and the competition. He never mentioned the two monster throws that beat him, nor that both of them had been new personal bests for those young men.
But after a couple of moments Mitchell’s usual upbeat personality broke through as he began talking about the lesson he would take from it and how it might serve him as he moves on to serve his country at the U.S. Naval Academy. Those rich tones and something more than a ghost of a smile were back.
And that’s when I heard it.
“I wish I had had more time to work on my form before today,” the Alcoa senior said. “Honestly, I wish I had started throwing the shot put a couple years earlier than I did.”
There were too many moments and events to give those words the credit they deserved last week. They got circled in the notebook however to bring up now, because they clearly explain a running theme that’s been a portion of interviews, said and unspoken, among athletes that only as upperclassmen took up track and field.
The shot put and discus are a prime example. It takes power and strength, no doubt, to achieve the distances that high school athletes are throwing those weights at state. It also takes technique. There were quite a few of those in the shot put and discus areas, including Mitchell, that were the dream of college football coaches to put on one side of their line or the other.
There always are. That combo of size and strength that serves so well in football is a great foundation for those events in track. Just like receivers and backs can make outstanding sprinters and jumpers, and basketball players some of the best pentathletes and decathletes, linemen tend to have the strength to make good throwers.
But track, like any sport, has technique and style that can be easy to learn and take a lifetime to master. The form and the steps in the shot required to put as much power as possible into the throw can be graded on a scale like gymnastics. The movements, in essence, are the same but timing here, a bobble there and it’s a difference measured sometimes in feet and not just inches. It goes across the board. Most of the best leaps are never measured for the foot-fault on the line. The confidence in the precise steps to hit at the line and across it from a full sprint takes years to truly master.
Running backs will compare the baton exchange in a relay to the handoff on the football field, but they’ll practice that handoff a 1,000 times more on the open field than they will the baton exchange where the area for that exchange is defined to a very limited vertical space and an excruciatingly tight horizontal one.
Our local track programs, and especially their coaches, know the issue and have taken a great step toward resolving it by again partnering with the summer youth track programs being offered on select week nights. The program begins on June 1 and 2 and participants can register at the track. This year William Blount will hold practices on Tuesday and Thursday night with three Saturday meets.
Alcoa and Maryville will be sharing the track at Maryville Jr. High with Maryville going Tuesday and Thursday and Alcoa using Monday and Wednesday nights. There’s more information at www.knoxvilleyouthathletics.org but this is the point. For parents, this is a fitness oriented program and there’s options for the younger ages to participate and maybe they’ll also find a specialty event that your little one can call his or her own.
For the high school athlete, as much specializing as there is and camps or off season programs in that one sport you love all year round it seems, this is the cross-training at $40 for a summer that costs that much per class at the gym.
Who knows, it might even find you another way to reach Murfreesboro.