Javelin great Tom Pukstys well remembers the 1986 USA Junior National Championships.
For all the wrong reasons.
It's the meet he coulda-shoulda-almost surely woulda won. Or at least grabbed a high-placing medal.
But he never got there.
He was a graduating senior at Amos Alonzo Stagg High School in Palos Hills, Illinois. He was a sensational spear-man, one of the nation's most promising. He'd thrown the high school implement humongous distances.
But the Pukstys family was of modest means, and no support mechanism was in place. The assistance that could have got him to those '86 Junior Nationals, which were held in Towson, Maryland, never was there.
"The kid who won it threw 222 (feet)," Pukstys relates, all these years later. "I was throwing over 230 every day...and that was just in practice."
Well, fast forward 27 years.
After that early frustration, Pukstys more than made up for the meet he missed. It can be safely said that's stating the case rather mildly. After two years at The College of DuPage in Illinois, he went on to a brilliant NCAA Division I career at Tennessee, kept at it and at it and at it; made two USA Olympic Teams (placing 10th at Barcelona in 1992, then 8th at Atlanta in 1996); represented the USA at five World Championships (Tokyo 1991, Stuttgart 1993, Goteborg 1995, Athens 1997, Seville 1991, with a best of 9th in '93), and built one of the greatest career dossiers an American jav-man ever enjoyed.
(In an Olympic event just one American, UCLA's Cy Young in 1952, has ever won.)
His career-best throw as an 87.12-meter / 285-10 heave in 1997, and consistency was always his strongest point. Six National Championship triumphs, seven USA number-one rankings by Track and Field News, and a lengthy compilation of throws past the 80-meter mark prove the point. After he called it a career after the 2004 season - too many injuries had taken their toll - he was still number two on the all-time American list, his 87.12 topped only by Tom Petranoff's 89.16 / 292-6 in 1991.
Heading into this 2013 post-Olympic campaign, he's still number three on the all-time USA charts (after Breaux Greer's mighty 91.29 / 299-6 heave in 2007 finally surpassed Petranoff's 89.16.) But he's never been a man to step away from his sport - as so many, unfortunately, have - either.
Just as he kept at it and at it and at it as a global jav star, he's put-back and put-back and put-back ever since.
He stepped into the coaching ranks, was an Olympic Team staffer in 2012, and has played a major role in the development of a long list of top-rank American throwers.
Ed Gorman of Summit, NJ now directs USATF's High Performance Division and under his aegis Pukstys chairs the Development Group's javelin development committee. USA men's throwers had a less-than-notable time at the 2012 London Olympic Games and so major plans are in store to get more American throwers back onto the podiums of the world's biggest meets.
One of the big difficulties traditionally facing top throwers heading into the USA Nationals / or World/Olympic Trials - was a lack of major competitive opportunities on the domestic schedule. For far too many years - just as the throwers needed to peak for the biggest events just ahead - they simply had far too few chances to do just that.
Change, though, is on the horizon.
And so, give thanks to both the National Scholastic Athletics Foundation and USATF's High Performance Division.
They are teaming to make the Chicagoland Thowers Series - set for the world-class throws facilities at Benedictine College in Lisle, Illinois on Saturday, June 8 - a huge event attracting top throwers from both the elite level and the scholastic ranks.
It is sure to be a tremendous opportunity for all to display their talents, all some two weeks before the USA Open and Junior National Championships coming to Drake University Stadium in Des Moines, Iowa, June 20-23. And for the high schoolers, it's a week before the New Balance Outdoor Nationals, June 14-16 in Greensboro, NC.
The format is distinctive.
As NSAF's Joy Kamani explains, "the high school kids (boys and girls) and the elite athletes (men and women) will be competing against each other, though the high school kids will be using the high school implements.
"The goal of the event is to provide a positive atmosphere for throwers and the opportunity to compete against other elite athletes."
NSAF, through the valiant efforts of Board member Bill Schmidt, 1972 javelin Olympic Bronze medallist, the driving force for this project from the Foundation’s end, will fund the top four athletes by gender in each of the four throwing events, shot put, discus, hammer and javelin - a total of 32 young throws stars. (Among the early acceptances are SP stars Braheme Days of New Jersey and Ashlie Blake of Nevada.)
Meanwhile, USATF will fund a few dozen elite athletes to compete in their specialties. At least a dozen Olympians are expected.
For the top high schoolers, this is just part of NSAF's big role in the national picture. Thanks to all the good people of NSAF, their funding will help the top talents get to their respective national meets - just the kind of support that was never there for Tom Pukstys in 1986.
Actually, this will be third annual Chicagoland Throwers Challenge, but the 2011 and 2012 events were far lower key. (And added Challenge events will be held June 15 and July 20.)
"We'll guarantee a good time for everybody who'll be coming on June 8," said
Pukstys. "It will be huge. We will definitely have fun."
Music, food, spectators and an encouraging announcer sure to get into the spirit of the occasion will guarantee a festive atmosphere.
It won't be over when it's over, either.
Scheduled is a post-meet clinic/roundtable discussion where the day's lessons learned will be analyzed and reviewed.
When that's done, all these throwers will surely be better prepared for their
major national - international, too - tests just ahead.
Obviously, this event will challenge them all to throw 'em a long-long way. And maybe go on to a career as long and lustrous as Tom Pukstys'.