COLUMBIA — Standing out at a track and field meet is difficult. There are multiple events going on at once, some of them out of sight, away from where the audience is seated.
Some athletes, like Rock Bridge sprinter Matt Kelly, wore neon socks to stand out from the other competitors at Saturday’s meet between Helias and host Rock Bridge.
For other athletes, no gimmick is needed to draw attention to themselves. Rock Bridge senior Austin Ray had about 20 spectators walk from the stands to the discus field behind the track, to watch him throw. He did not disappoint.
Ray won the event with a throw of 154 feet, 9½ inches. He beat second-place finisher Hunter Trom, a junior from Rock Bridge, by more than 16 feet.
Before each throw, Ray walks to the back right corner of the cement throwing space and wipes the bottoms of his shoes. When he steps into the circle, he taps his toes on the ground and begins to circle around for momentum. After he releases the disc, his momentum nearly knocks him over, but his balance and athletic ability keep him in the circle to avoid a fault.
Rock Bridge assistant coach Elisha Hunt, a former MU thrower, says she is amazed by Rays' ability.
“The cool thing about watching him throw is that it doesn’t matter if something is wrong with his technique,” Hunt said. “He still steps into the ring and hits the big marks.”
Ray is 6 feet, 6 inches tall and weighs 240 pounds giving him the natural ability to throw a discus a long way. However, he credits Hunt's coaching on technique for his improvement.
Last year, Hunt’s first year coaching, Ray's personal best was 146-6. With another year of Hunt’s coaching, he hit 166-11 at the Capital Relays on April 14 at Jefferson City High School.
In June, Ray will head to Colorado University to begin training with the football team. He received a scholarship after his senior season to play tight end for the Buffaloes.
He does not plan to throw the discuss at Colorado, but he is still working hard on reaching his goal of placing at the state track meet to finish his senior season.
“I could focus only on my football training, but I am a competitor, and I like throwing,” Ray said. “Plus this keeps me from sitting around the house all the time.”
In his senior year, Ray has also taken a leadership role on the team. Hunt will often see him coaching the younger guys at practice.
Trom, whose second-place 138-1½ was a personal best, says he has learned a lot from Ray.
“He’s helped me gain more explosion in my throw, and he also helps keep our practices laid back by joking around with us,” Trom said.
Supervising editor is Grant Hodder