Gary Stautz is sympathetic to the plight of Gresham (Ore.) High School’s future javelin throwers.
“You know in order to break the school record now, you have to break the national record, too,” said the school’s long-time throws coach.
It’s not a complaint, but a badge of honor. Sam Crouser and his little sister Haley, a junior who will compete at the OSAA Class 6A/5A/4A Track and Field Championships this weekend at Hayward Field in Eugene, have come along and re-set the standards for high school javelin throwing.
But the Crousers, talented as they are, didn’t arrive at those records out of the blue. In Oregon track and field, there is a mystique associated with the javelin that is built upon more than half a century of headline-makers in the event.
Coaching, the lure of college scholarships, and even the state’s climate, are factors in Oregonians’ continued fascination, and success, throwing the javelin.
This year’s national rankings show that 10 of the top 25 girls in the country come from Oregon. Meanwhile, six of the top 25 boys come from the state (Pennsylvania has nine).
There are certainly reasons for that, the biggest being that only 18 states participate in the javelin (although athletes from other states do occasionally get to throw it). California doesn’t throw it; Texas doesn’t throw it.
But Washington, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Kansas and others do.
In Oregon, there is lore associated with the event dating back to the 1930s. The first boy to throw 200 feet in the state meet was Warren Demaris back in 1931. And in 1934, Bob Parke became the first of the University of Oregon’s seven NCAA javelin champions. (The university’s influence on the high school scene can’t be understated. In 1964, Oregon went 1-2-3 in the javelin at the NCAA Championships).
In 1959, Glen Winningham of Grants Pass, Ore. broke the national scholastic record when he threw 225-6. Six years later another Oregon thrower, Ansten “Ole” Tretten of Clatskanie, set the national mark when he hit 231-7.
In 1971, a phenomenon named Russ Francis moved to Oregon from Hawaii halfway through his senior year of high school. At 6-foot-6, 220 pounds, the 18-year-old Francis was a star football prospect who signed with the University of Oregon. He had never seen a javelin before he saw one in a Eugene sporting goods store and wasn’t sure what it was for.
But a coach at Pleasant Hill High School taught Francis how to throw it and within a matter of weeks he became the best high school thrower in the country. He threw 253-1 to break Mark Murro’s (N.J.) 1967 national record. And then he broke it again with 259-9.
Francis went on to an NFL career playing tight end for the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers and his high school javelin record remained on the books for 17 years.
In 1988, Art Skipper of Sandy, Ore. went after the Francis record. And at the Oregon state championships that year, he threw the javelin almost clear across the infield at Hayward Field in Eugene. The mark was measured at 259-10 – a new record by a single inch.
Skipper’s mark lasted until the slate was wiped clean by the “new rules” international javelin in 2002.
The international javelin record was traced back to a European exchange student attend school in New York, Tommy Viskari, from fall of 1988 (241-1).
But Sam Crouser, nephew of former Oregon state champion and one-time world record holder Brian Crouser, came along and smashed the record in 2010 with 255-4.
So what is it about Oregon?
“There’s been a foundation for that event that’s been laid down years ago,” Stautz said. “When I look around the state, I see quality coaches in abundance.”
Gary Reddaway, second in that 1964 Oregon javelin sweep, became an influential coach in the state for many years.
And Joe Boutin is in his fourth decade coaching the throwers at Newberg High School, where he has a long line of state champions, including 1984 Olympian Lynda Hughes (Suftin) and 2005 U.S. girls record-setter Rachel Yurkovich (and also 2012 U.S. men’s leader Cyrus Hostetler).
Boutin and other coaches also may have gotten an assist from Oregon’s rainy spring weather. The theory goes that some of the state’s baseball players get frustrated over the frequency of rained out games, and some are peeled off by savvy track coaches who teach them to throw.
The best girls’ javelin throwers in the state all seem to have one thing in common: Volleyball. Yurkovich and Haley Crouser are just two examples of girls who turned the spiking motion of their right arms into record-setting javelin launchers.
But javelin in Oregon is not isolated to just a few pockets. Successful throwers come from every part of the state.
“There is a high expectation of what it takes to win a state title,” said Hidden Valley (Grants Pass, Ore.) coach Josh Standley said. “In Oregon, it takes a farther throw. We laugh sometimes because a girl who takes fifth in our district meet (and doesn’t qualify for state) might be top-five in another state.”
Hidden Valley has a contender for the Class 4A title with Bailey Bars, who has thrown US#23 144-9 this year. Eight girls in Oregon have thrown farther, including Crouser, the reigning 6A champ.
Brianna Bain, fourth place in last year’s Oregon Class 6A championship meet, won the Pac-12 Conference championship two weeks ago as a freshman for Stanford.
Oregon coaches and parents have also picked up on the mathematics of scholarships. If only 18 states throw the javelin, and every college track team in the U.S. competes in the event, then the odds of throwing far enough to earn financial aid start to look pretty good compared to other sports.
“I’ve been saying that for 20 years,” Dean Crouser, father of Sam and Haley, said. “It’s the path of least resistance. If you can throw 150 (feet), that could mean a full-ride (scholarship) at a D1 school.”
With something close to her PR, Bars would have scored at the SEC, Big Ten and Big 12 conference championships. She’d have been one place out of scoring at the Pac-12 meet.
Crouser, at 17 years old, is looking forward to the Olympic Trials. She could reasonably place in the top five or so there.
But another development in Oregon this spring may do even more to illustrate how outsized javelin has become to the state’s track identity. In the sparsely populated eastern side of the state a pair of small-school athletes dueled for Class 1A supremacy in the javelin.
First, Prairie City’s Brady Doty topped 200 feet when he went 200-3 (US#22).
Then at the state meet, rival Justin Larson of Dayville pulled in front and won the title with 201-3 (US#19).
Prairie City has an enrollment of 78 students.
Dayville has only 23.
“It was usually a toss up between us,” Larson said. “We’ve been to five or six of the same meets (this spring). He won about half and so did I. It was super close.”