COLUMN: In the field

May 15—There has always been an almost mythical attraction about the "field" part of track and field, particularly the events associated with the big and powerful among us.

I'm talking about taking a ball made of iron, sand and cast iron (according to Dr. Google) and weighs anywhere from 6 pounds to 16 pounds, depending on genre and level of competition.

High school girls throw the 6-pound ball, while the boys heave an 8-pounder. Olympic caliber athletes, by comparison, "put" a 16-pounder.

This is akin to throwing something that for centuries blasted out the barrel of a gun powder filled tube known commonly as a cannon.

The average shot put ball does not explode, that is good.

But it is heavy and requires strength, and equally important, "technique." Unless your last name is Kong, you have to know how to spin, crouch, uncoil and, depending upon the "shotter" emit a loud grunt worthy of someone who just did an uncommon thing.

Technique is perhaps more important in throwing the discus, a weighted pie plate (frisbee if you prefer), usually after coming out of a contorting spin similar to that used by throwers of the iron ball.

Big difference: gravity acts on the iron ball quicker than on a discus, which has at least some aerodynamic thing going on.

Traditionally, these two events attract the big boys and girls, eager to test their "metal" and ability to defy gravity.

A good throw in the high school ranks is generally 35 feet in the shot put and a 130 feet with the flying saucer shaped discus.

The distances vary as one might imagine.

One of the funniest things I saw in track was when I accompanied the Billings Senior High track team to the state all-class meet as a sophomore "manager", or as I viewed it, a guy legally skipping school for track meets.

I won't mention a name, but one of the biggest, strongest freak athletes in Montana high school history was as everyone expected, dominating the weight throwing events. This fella, who would later have an all-Pro career as an offensive lineman in the NFL, had already won the shot put by at least 20 feet (64 feet something as I recall), owned the discus (multiple feet beyond second place) and was preparing for the weight throwing trifecta with the occasionally deadly instrument known as the javelin. Other cultures found this "spear" useful in bringing down large African game.

Anyway, having already blown away the javelin field, this guy was running toward the scratch line (generally a white board planted in the ground and acting as a stop sign for the running approach).

There is a strange ritual javelin throwers go through with their feet in those last few strides toward the scratch line that gives them full body leverage as they release the spear. Grunts are not uncommon.

As he approached the scratch line, the guy got his feet tangled and was falling forward. Not wanting to let his tootsies violate the scratch board and not wanting to fall on his face, the thrower reached the javelin out in front of his falling body, stuck it deep in the ground, and broke his fall.

"Mark" cried the event judge.

The tip of the javelin was about four feet beyond the scratch board. The crowd, including me, erupted in laughter. It was like slap-stick comedy where the clown's pants normally fall down around the ankles.

An in-the-books, four-foot throw.

Fortunately, he had already wrapped up the event title with a throw somewhere more than 180 feet.

Despite this rare and no doubt embarrassing happening, there is a grace and beauty that goes with strength and power which makes so many kids want to give weight throwing a try.

For me, and I never got the hang of it, but participating in an event which requires minimal running was just fine. Most offensive linemen are offensive linemen, at least in part, because the thought of driving more than 40 yards, not to mention running that far, was foreign.

At any rate, track and field fans in this area have one of those athletes who was born to throw heavy things....junior Alexis Demming, a powerful member of the Plains Trotters (girls) track and field team.

She won the State B discus championship last year as a sophomore, is heavily favored to win it again this year, and according to the laws of probability, unless Sarah Kong enrolls in a local school, will win it again as a senior.

Demming has a good shot at making it a double this year with a win in the shot put.

Next time you are at a track meet, like, say this weekend at Missoula' s County Public Stadium (site of the Class B-C Divisional meet) check out the shot put and discus arenas.

They are always offset from the main track, an iron ball would be like a bowling ball to a field of runners.

Grace, speed, strength. It's all there.