Javelin throwers gather at state track tournament
Austin Kafentzis watches video of some of the world's best athletes, absorbing the details of their throwing motions and release points.
The Jordan High star has been taught the importance of proper footwork and torque and achieving the optimum angle; a javelin flies farthest when it is thrown at an angle of 37.5 degrees.
But there is another factor equally important for high school javelin throwers: location. Because as track and field athletes head to BYU this weekend for state championships, Utah remains one of just 19 states that still offers javelin as a high school field event.
"When we moved here, we got lucky," says Kyle Kafentzis, Austin's father and Jordan High School's javelin coach.
New York does not allow high schoolers to throw it. Neither does Wisconsin, where Austin Kafentzis already has been offered a football scholarship. Jordan's Christian Shaver threw shot put and discus his sophomore year in Arizona, but it wasn't until he moved to Utah that he was permitted to pick up a javelin.
"We didn't have anything like this, so it's pretty cool," said the junior, who has a shot at going one-two with Kafentzis this weekend. "It's fun. If you can throw a football, you can pick it up."
Growing up in Utah, javelin was a savior for Teri Spiers.
"For me, it brought a lot of success," she said. "In high school, we didn't have softball when I was competing. Throwing brought me a scholarship, and I was able to go to college because of the javelin."
She also was able to compete in three Olympic trials in the event.
"I'm glad Utah has it, but I can understand why some states don't," said Spiers, now an assistant principal at Weber High School. "Once you've seen a javelin go through a human being, you kind of understand the dangers of it."
Danger and liability have caused many states to shy away from the event. In Minnesota, where the event has been discontinued, a record from 1929 still stands. And when Park City's track and field team went to California for a meet this year, Megan Glasmann, a state record holder who is going to Stanford on a javelin scholarship, had to stay behind.
"It's an NCAA sport. It's an Olympic sport. It's kind of puzzling to me that some states don't have it," Park City coach Jeff Wyant said.
One of the most serious Utah javelin injures in recent memory came in 2008, when a newspaper photographer walked into a restricted area and was speared through the leg.
"Every time we have an injury, the question comes up whether to keep it or get rid of it," said Bart Thompson, an assistant director with the Utah High School Activities Association. "We haven't had a whole lot of injuries. The problem with it is those we've had are pretty serious."
But Thompson said a passionate contingent of javelin supporters has fought successfully to keep the sport alive when questions arise.
Kyle Kafentzis, who along with his brothers grew up throwing javelin in Washington state, said he understands why the sport evokes such passion.
"It's how we hunted thousands of years ago," he said. "Every time I put a javelin in a kid's hand, they just love it. I think that's from our history."
The younger Kafentzis began throwing a month into last year's track season, when shin splints kept him from running for the team. He's seen his distance jump dramatically and finished last year with one of the country's top 10 marks. At BYU, he'll be looking to break 200 feet for the first time in his career.
"I definitely think it's the best field event," the sophomore said. "I don't know why. Something about throwing a spear."
Utah State Track and Field Championships
O At Clarence F. Robison Track Stadium, BYU
When • Friday and Saturday
Note • Track and field events begin at 8 a.m. Friday and 8:30 a.m. Saturday
Give it a toss
States with javelin in prep track and field:
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