Seattle Public Schools says it’s because of safety concerns. Track and field coaches say the numbers show that’s not the case and several are fighting for its inclusion.
Track and feld is a peculiar sport in Seattle.
The majority of the meets and practices are in the rain. Middle-school kids are only permitted to compete in the running events. And throwing the javelin is banned.
Established in the 1920s, the now 17-member Metro League is the only league among the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) to not permit javelin competition for its meets. The student-athletes can throw the javelin at an invitational, the SeaKing District meet and at the Class 3A state meet — if they qualify.
“If you’ve never done it, how can you qualify? Our kids are at a huge disadvantage,” Holy Names coach Kali Roberts said.
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What’s the Metro League’s reasoning?
“We have the kids’ safety in mind,” said Pat McCarthy, Seattle Public Schools assistant director of athletics. “I can’t speak for anybody else, but that’s our district’s stance on it.”
Washington is one of 19 states in the country to offer javelin as a sanctioned high-school track and field event, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.
As anyone would guess, KingCo dominates the javelin event at the district meet, which, for Class 3A, contains just the KingCo and Metro. The meet is ironically held at Chief Sealth, a Seattle Public School.
In the past 10 years, Nathan Hale grad Megan Mooney is the only Metro athlete to win a district title in the javelin. She won the Class 3A javelin state championship in 2013 and earned a scholarship to Cal Poly where she won the 2016 Big West javelin title.
“It’s always funny when people bring it up as a safety issue,” Mooney said. “Yes, javelins are pointy and they can spear people. You can get impaled. But has anyone ever seen a high-school discus competition?”
The Metro League lifted its ban on the discus in the 1980s.
“The one thing about a javelin is once it’s on its path, it’s predictable where it’s going to go,” Mooney said. “Discus? I’m biased because I don’t like their taking away opportunities from other people, but discus is a crazier flight line.”
According to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research’s 2015-16 report, there were five indirect/direct track and field incidences that school year. The total was fewer than football (64) and basketball (six).
There have been 1,973 catastrophic sports-related injuries/illnesses at the high-school level in the NCCSIR’s 34-year history of providing reports. When combining genders, football accounted for majority of the incidences at 1,184 and was followed by basketball (175). Track and field, which isn’t further divided by event, is third (107). Wrestling (96) and baseball (87) complete the top five.
The lack of statistics to support SPS’s concerns boggles the mind of longtime Ingraham coach Kurt Spann. He made a two-minute presentation to the school board in 2016 to sanction the event but couldn’t even get a vote for consideration.
According to McCarthy, the Metro bylaws state league president Eric McCurdy would have to appeal to the board. There are no plans to do so, but Spann remains committed to getting the ban lifted. He is forming a Seattle Track and Field Advisory Committee to explore other ways to persuade the league.
“If you were to say you can’t dunk in basketball because it’s high up in the air, that would be weird,” Spann said. “It’s part of basketball. The javelin is part of track and field. To say we can’t do it for reasons that can be argued against is weird. And I don’t like being involved in something that has contradictions. Letting us throw at a district meet at the same facility where they say we can’t throw it during league meets, that’s a contradiction.”
Metro track and field coaches say SPS is denying student-athletes another avenue to earn a college scholarship. Nathan Hale grad Elise Knutzen won a state javelin title in 2006 and a scholarship to Notre Dame. She joins Mooney as the only Metro athletes — boy or girl — to win state since 2000.
“I get calls from my buddies all the time looking for javelin throwers,” said Seattle Prep coach Deino Scott, who helped produce multiple district champions when at Bellevue. “The need is there.”
Holy Names worked around the restrictions by hosting a javelin invitational for only Metro schools, which gives athletes a chance to hit a mark worthy of an invitational or qualify for districts.
In a spring morning mist, nine boys and girls javelin throwers gathered at West Seattle Stadium April 14 for the second annual meet. Seattle Prep freshman Cassie Lemus-Sodji was among the field. It was the first time she touched a javelin.
“My coach saw me throwing a softball and thought I might be good,” said Lemus-Sodji, who placed third with a throw of 62 feet, 9 inches. Holy Names junior Allison Nguyen won at 81-3. Ingraham’s Darius Carriger won the boys title at 96-11.
“I might as well try something new because high school is the time to try new things,” Lemus-Sodji said. “We worked on approaches and a little bit of hip work Friday. I think I like it. If I keep practicing I could get better.”
Multiple Metro track and field coaches said practices are where potential athletes lose interest. Despite having the accessible equipment and facilities, because Metro banned the event, athletes have to wait until after the regular practice to work on javelin technique and throwing. Then often wait two weeks to compete.
Mooney played mental games like “beat the mark” to compete against herself when in high school. She picked up the sport because former Hale coach Howie Kellogg saw she had a strong arm.
“It’s the best advice ever given to me,” said Mooney, who ultimately was good enough to also have a private coach in high school. “(The restrictions) were definitely discouraging. You just want to compete, that’s all any athlete wants to do.”