The javelin runway is tucked along a chain-link fence at Blue Springs High School. It neighbors a parking lot, which became a relevant detail Friday evening.
The Missouri State High School Activities Association will offer the javelin throw as a state championship event for the first time at next month’s state meet in Jefferson City.
And there’s a bit of a learning curve, as it turns out. In the midst of the competition Friday at the Gary Parker Invitational, a 8-foot red spear sailed through the trees, cleared that chain-link fence and rattled the bumper of a pair of pickup trucks.
“You see some pretty bad throws out here sometimes,” said Blue Springs senior Dylan Cowling, “just because guys aren’t used to throwing it.
“It’s a lot harder than it looks.”
The errant throws didn’t come from Cowling, who won the event Friday. His longest throw traveled 174 feet, 2 inches in the air before the spear stuck into the ground. Liberty North’s Ava Curry later won the girls event with a throw of 127 feet, 9 inches.
For those who know Cowling’s athletic background — a quarterback on the football team, which finished runner-up in Missouri Class 6 last fall — it probably seems like a natural transition to the javelin. That’s what he was hoping, too. But there’s little that would be considered natural about the movements required to throw the javelin, an event that actually dates back to the Olympic Games in Ancient Greece.
Two years ago, MSHSAA announced its plans to conduct a two-year trial for the javelin, with the possibility of implementation into the state scoring in 2017. That’s when Lee’s Summit seniors Dakota Collins and Adam Schmidt tried it for the first time.
It was a rocky start.
“You know how if you throw something light (weight) for too long it starts to hurt your shoulder? That’s how this is,” Schmidt said. “They’re not heavy. It’s a really weird thing. They don’t have any weight to them.”
Schmidt finished third Friday at the Gary Parker Invitational at Blue Springs. Collins was fifth.
For two years, they have practiced the javelin, knowing they would have no opportunity to score points for their team at a state meet. Most of the training — at least for the newcomers, and there are plenty of those in Missouri this spring — is centered around technique more than strength-building.
“The way you think you’d throw a spear is not how you actually throw a spear,” Schmidt said. “You would think you would just grab it and just chuck it. It doesn’t work that way.
“It’s really funny to watch people who don’t know what they’re doing try to throw it.”
Progress is being made.
Cowling said he already noticed some improvement last season, when MSHSAA allowed the javelin throw at the state meet but labeled it an “exhibition” event. In other words, the competitors could receive a medal — and Cowling indeed placed second in the state — but it lacked some authenticity.
Cowling has already surpassed his state-meet mark by more than 12 feet this season. And that still might not be good enough to win it this spring.
“There was a meet a couple of years ago, and a couple of kids came in and threw it 140 or 150 (feet), and I just thought that was so far,” Cowling said. “This year, it takes 160 just to be in it. With it being a real event this year, it’s definitely becoming a lot more competitive.”