Javelin Dynasty Flies in Oregon

Javelin doesn't have a lot of cachet in the sports world. But high school athletes in the small town of Newberg, Oregon, have taken to the event in a big way. Under the tutelage of 70-year-old coach Joe Boutin, javelin throwers have won 10 state championships and earned many athletic scholarships to college.

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

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And I'm Melissa Block.

Javelin throwing is one of those majestic sports with links to the ancient Olympics, but not a lot of cachet in today's sports world. For most budding high school athletes, football, basketball even other track and field events have more allure than the javelin. But in the small town of Newberg, Oregon, there is plenty of allure. As NPR's Tom Goldman reports, a local high school has created a javelin dynasty.

TOM GOLDMAN reporting:

Rachel Yerkovich is not a happy javelin thrower.

(Soundbite of running)

Ms. RACHEL YERKOVICH (Javelin Thrower, Newberg High School): Gosh!

(Soundbite of running)

Ms. YERKOVICH: Oh!

Mr. JOE BOUTIN (Javelin Coach, Newberg High School): Not getting through on it, Rachel. You have good pop, but...

Ms. YERKOVICH: ...(Unintelligible).

Mr. BOUTIN: Yeah, you're overrunning it.

GOLDMAN: The advice javelin coach Joe Boutin dishes out seems as casual as the faded blue jeans and hooded white sweatshirt he wears to practice. But the 70-year-old Newberg High School Coach also knows the problems Rachel Yerkovich is having on this windy, rainy day really aren't problems. Boutin walks out in the field where the javelins have landed and, grinning, points to a spot on the grass.

Mr. BOUTIN: See, the girls' state meet record is right here.

GOLDMAN: And Rachel threw?

Mr. BOUTIN: Probably three feet beyond that on that last throw.

GOLDMAN: On a day that she says she's feeling bad.

Mr. BOUTIN: Feeling bad.

GOLDMAN: Late last month, the 18-year-old senior felt quite good when she threw a javelin 176 feet, 5 inches, a US high school record. It's just one of the numbers that define a legacy of javelin success since Joe Boutin took over 31 years ago.

Mr. BOUTIN: At Newberg here, I've coached five boys state champions and five girls state champions. We've had six boys runner-ups and five girls runner-ups, second place, so we've had a total of 21 in the top two.

GOLDMAN: Impressive numbers anywhere, but especially in a town with a population just under 20,000. Try as he might to deflect credit--`I've had great athletes,' Boutin says--he's really the key to success. For over three decades, he's had this knack for hooking, then reeling in kids like Alex Wolfe(ph), a senior linebacker on the Newberg High football team.

ALEX WOLFE (Senior, Newberg High School): I just came out and thought throwing a big spear would be kind of fun, so I went over there and started throwing, and then he talked me into doing it all the time and showed me how cool it is.

GOLDMAN: As a coach, according to his athletes, Boutin is a great teacher, clear and simple in his instructions, and someone who understands the importance of not coaching too much.

Mr. BOUTIN: Some coaches won't allow a kid to throw sidearm at all, but if I feel it's the natural throwing form for that person, then I don't try to really change it too much. I don't have a particular style, I just try to adopt my style to what the kid has to offer.

It has to go over our head! Get it up higher!

GOLDMAN: We now are in the field, watching practice from a different and potentially dangerous position.

About to have a javelin arcing toward us here, and here it comes.

(Soundbite of javelin landing)

GOLDMAN: While Alex Wolfe throws at us, dumb jokes about javelin catching come to mind. Wolfe certainly wasn't laughing in March when he actually impaled himself warming up for a meet. He stumbled and fell backwards onto a javelin stuck in the ground. It entered the back of his leg above the knee and came out the front.

WOLFE: So I just, like, kind of hopped back and then pulled it out somehow. I told coach that I might have hurt myself, and then he saw the front of it and kind of didn't freak out. And then I showed him the back, and he kind of went blank.

GOLDMAN: Alex Wolfe was lucky to escape serious injury. Then, just three weeks after the accident, he uncorked the longest throw in the state all year, 201 feet, 8 inches, and did it using a running approach he shortened to three steps because of the injury. Wolfe and his teammate-slash-girlfriend, Rachel Yerkovich, are favorites in this weekend's Oregon State High School Championships. It's a great chance for more numbers, more evidence of a javelin dynasty. It's a term that makes Joe Boutin nervous. Everyone expects winners at Newberg High. But with 30 years' proof behind him, you get the sense Joe Boutin will take care of all those expectations. Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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