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A Big Splash

I coached at Loyola in the late 80's & early 90's, part of my duties working with the small bunch of sprinters, hurdlers, and field event athletes during the winter months. Alumni Gymnasium was all we had to work out in - 70' x 114' of pine boards. No high jumps pits. No long jump pit. No hurdles. No shot put ring.

As a result I had to improvise a hundred different ways to provide for our athletes, hopeful that they appreciated my efforts. Typically it meant getting out a hammer and nails (e.g. a shot ring), but occasionally it was driving to another school to pick up used equipment. Anything I could locate improved on the nothing we had.

Were we really DI?

A good example. We used PE volleyball standards (in a cement tire) to hold the bar for our high jumper, the crossbar resting on two exhaust pipe hangers typically found under cars, a single section of a gifted high jump pit placed carefully for each jump. It was far from ideal (or safe) but Mark did jump 6'6" in the decathlon - only six inches below his pole vault mark!

I used black paint on the basketball court (after hours when the BB coach was on the road) to permanently locate hurdle marks; attaching starting blocks to a sheet of plywood, drilling two holes (maybe not officially) in the floor alongside the bleachers for a pin that would hold them.


Yet it was my shot put set-up that stole the cake. It wasn't easy to locate a 60' sector that could handle the 16# ball without damage and was a safe spot to throw. And there was no way we could throw on the BB court. Eventually I found a narrow strip of balcony in the back of Alumni Gymnasium, clearing out the area of a pitching machine, straw archery targets, cross country skis, and bags of golf clubs.

But there was still one problem. The 25 yard water polo pool was immediately below us! With a balcony that was only 18', wide there wasn't much room for error. So I found some old softball netting and strung it between poles like you see at a driving range.

The first day Larry and Irfan did warmup throws from the toe board, advancing to a power position and then a shuffle drill, all three of us excited to watch the first "real" throw after the 15-18 tosses, only two snagged by the netting. So far, so good.

Larry stepped into the ring, kicked the toe board with his right foot, glancing up briefly at the far wall, turned and walked to the back of the ring. He raised the shot over his head and tucked it into his neck, bent forward into a T position, and then scooted across the ring.

The ball hit the wall 35' away and rolled back towards the toe board like it was a bowling alley. He gave me a big smile and pumped his arms.

"It's going to work!"

Until it didn't. I can still picture Larry stripping off his t-shirt, shoes, and socks, sitting on the railing of the balcony with a "what's the use of being a college athlete if you can't do something stupid" look as he jumped. He hit the water like a cannonball, sinking to the bottom of the pool, coming up seconds later with the 16# implement, and a smile on his face.

Just like many of my improvisations at Loyola, it wasn't perfect, but it worked. And I'm glad they could swim, because I sure as hell wasn't going to dive in and get the ball for them.

Enjoy this story? Be sure to check out the rest of the website where you can purchase my books, "A Golden Era" and "A Long Road Ahead" which tell the stories of the high school and college running careers of a father in the 70s and his son in the 2000s.

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