So I’m at the Illinois state track meet a few years ago and on the day of the prelims it is cold and raining and the discus flights are delayed several hours. They finally start warmups for the flight that my athlete is in, and it is slow going.
Every kid has to wipe off the ring before his warmup throw, and even then the footing is dicey.
So, of course, the official in charge of this particular flight ignores the conditions and strictly enforces a 20-minute warmup period, which means that each kid gets in the ring twice.
My kid, who had come up big at the sectional the week before when he threw a PR of 155′ to qualify for the state meet, was totally rattled by the situation. The disc looked like it weighed about twelve pounds when it left his half-frozen hand, and the best he could muster on his three prelim throws at state was 135 feet.
I wasn’t mad at him, because under those conditions it was hard to imagine anyone throwing far.
There was this kid from Prospect High who did not exactly look ummm….gazelle-like moving through the ring, but seemed very strong and very determined.
I don’t remember how far he threw that day, but it was enough to move on to the final where he threw even farther and earned a spot on the podium.
Later on, someone told me that his name was Matt Babicz, and this was his first year in the sport.
The following year, this prospect from Prospect reached the 180’s and then…I wasn’t sure what happened to him.
He lacked the lanky looseness common to premier discus prospects, and also lacked the kind of shot put prowess (his high school PR was 57 feet) that would have attracted attention in that event.
It turns out that he ended up in the perfect place: Depaul University in Chicago, Illinois, under the care of throws coach Brandon Murer.
And it didn’t take Coach Murer long to figure out that this thick, tough, explosive-aggressive young man was best suited to throw the shot in college.
When Matt arrived on campus, he informed Coach Murer that he intended to be a discus thrower.
The first time he tried throwing the 16-lb shot he barely broke the 13-meter barrier.
But he finished his freshman campaign with a shot PR of 16.84m and a disc PR of 48.13m and started to realize that maybe, just maybe, coach knew what he was talking about.
As a sophomore he was Big East champion in the shot with a career-best throw of 18.33m.
The following year was lost to shoulder surgery.
Last year, Matt was again Big East champion and, in spite of a finger injury (the plague of many if not all shot putters) he hit 19.47m and qualified for nationals.
Surgery last summer relieved him of a couple of bone chips in a knuckle on his throwing hand and, combined with the maturity that all coaches hope to see in their veteran athletes (Matt now understands the importance of regular stretching, regular treatment for various aches and pains inherent to shot putting, and regular shall-we-say hitting of efficient positions rather than rushing through the throw) set him up for a very successful senior year.
In spite of his recent surgical experiences, Matt has been able to squat over 500 pounds and bench over 400 pounds.
More importantly, he has recently been named Depaul’s Scholar Athlete of the Year.
Oh, and by the way, he blasted a PR of 19.96 meters at Notre Dame’s Alex Wilson Invitational on February 21st to secure a spot in this year’s incredibly-competitive NCAA indoor championships.
And though he will be going up against the likes of Ryan Crouser and Stipe Zunic (4th place finisher at last year’s European Championships) don’t count this guy out.
I’ve seen him compete in less-than-ideal conditions. He came up big then, and he may very well do the same this weekend.