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Opportunities for local athletes who want to develop their skills in a track and field event which is growing in popularity can look toward a field in Lincoln County.
Gary Cooper, who has worked with area high school and college athletes primarily in discus and shot put, has built a field at his home on Hill Creek Road into a hammer throw facility.
“We call ourselves ‘Throw For The Road Hammer Club’ which has several different meanings,” he said. “Throw For The Road to junior national championships, Throw For The Road to a scholarship for college or even higher dreams of throwing for the road to the Olympics.”
Cooper said there is only one state in the USA that has hammer throwing in high school and that’s Rhode Island. “From what I understand in talking with hammer coaches around the country, there are five to seven states working to get hammer into their state high school programs,” he said.
He said one of the reasons it’s important for youth in this country to have the opportunity to throw the hammer, is the value it extends to them when looking at throwing programs in colleges and the potential for scholarships. In college, scoring points at conference is one of the priorities of the track season. “I had listened to a college coach talking to two of our throwers last year,” said Cooper. “He said, most everyone that throws in high school, throws shot put and discus. But if he’s considering two recruits and one has been throwing the hammer even just a week, that’s the one he will be talking to first. The more events one can be in at conference, the better the chances are for scoring points towards a conference championship.”
In the past three years Cooper has had kids from 11 different high schools from as far away as Waterloo, Ill. They have had three qualify or compete at USA’s Junior National Championships including Deanna Price, Troy Buchanan High grade and thrower at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Three boys along with five girls have made the qualifying distance to be included on the National High School ranking list. Among those was Price, who was ranked third in the country her senior year of high school with a distance of over 181 ft. Also, Brian Cooper was ranked in the #12 hammer, 6k (13.2#) and 16# ( Men’s College hammer weight), all his senior year of school at Troy Buchanan. Both are now attending SIU Carbondale that is the number two ranked throwing program in the country.
“Our goal is to train young athletes to be ready to compete their first year of college,” said Cooper. “We have two seniors this year and one junior that are going to be very competitive, with all three having personal records of over 150 ft. in the hammer.”
Leah Colbert from Troy has a personal best of 163-7, Madeline Middlebrook from Fort Zumwalt West has thrown 150-1 with a 10# hammer and Melanie Raterman from Warrenton with a best of 152-0. Emily Schob from St. Dominic is attending Warrensburg this fall and is another thrower that has made the national high school hammer list this Season.
In hammer, girls throwing 150 ft. or over and boys throwing 180 ft. and beyond are good recruit candidates for college coaches. The boys throw a 12# hammer while in high school, while girls throw the 4k (8lbs 13 oz) hammer from high school and through age 49. The world record for the 4k hammer is nearly 262 ft. While the men’s 16 has been thrown over 285 ft.
In talking to some of the German throwers that recently competed at the London Olympics, it was interesting to learn many have been throwing hammer since they were 11 years old. This puts America’s youth at a disadvantage by the time they start to learn hammer in college. “Any foreign recruited throwers have seven years or more of training before they come here,” said Cooper.
While at Junior Nationals this past June, coaches were saying they had only Rhode Island or Georgia (which has a hammer throwing center) to look to for potential recruits. Past this, they would turn their efforts towards Europe for hammer throwers. “After seeing Deanna Price and Sophie Lozano competing, they felt they had another area right here in the Midwest they could find competitive young throwers,” said Cooper.
Cooper said he has been fortunate to have the help of several parents including Steve Colbert, Tim McDonald, of Timberland, Dan Price, Terry Raterman, of Warrenton, George Gnade and Big Kirk, of The Wrecking Crew, Denny, of Victor Steel in Winfield and my NC friend. The all have helped put this throwing facility together. “Without them, we’d still be throwing off sheets of plywood, their support has been tireless. And desire to help kids refreshing with this economy as it is,” added Cooper.
The coaches consist of his son Brian. “He is the one credited with getting Deanna Price to throw over 200 ft. last summer before college while training and coaching her, along with our daughter Jena and myself.” he said. “We will try our best to help any one that has the desire to challenge themselves through a strong commitment in throwing this exciting event known simply as the HAMMER.”
Both Leah Colbert and Melanie Raterman received Youth Hammer Grants for their throwing abilities this year. Cooper believes only seven were awarded.