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Brad Szypka has fallen in love with the sport of track and field. Early in his high school career, he was just falling.
Szypka was a freshman in the spring of 2008 when he stumbled in the shot put circle at a junior varsity meet, catching his foot on an elevated plate and hurting himself. In one painful and regrettable tumble, his day was over.
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"I was pretty bad," said the Genoa senior.
Fremont St. Joseph senior Brant Reardon wasn't too hip to the idea of going out for the track and field team as a freshman. When he did, he was merely average. A three-sport athlete, Reardon was more successful and found more enjoyment in basketball and football than soaring over the high jump bar in the spring.
"I did track because I didn't want to be lazy that season and to stay in shape for basketball and football," Reardon said.
Reardon remains a three-sport athlete, the only difference being that track is now his best sport.
Szypka and Reardon have realistic designs of winning state championships, and in Reardon's case, a repeat state championship. Three years ago, no one could have predicted this level of success for either athlete. But much has transpired since then in their developments.
Szypka was named All-Suburban Lakes League first team after his junior football season, the 6-foot-3, 225-pounder playing an integral role on the offensive line for the Comets during an unbeaten regular season.
To the dismay of his teammates and coaches, Szypka never played another snap.
Throwing the shot put and discus became a unyielding passion for Szypka last summer, and those tiresome and blistering football practices, and the nicks and bumps that come from them, would be a hindrance to his training. So in July, Szypka had a decision to make. Track and field coaches from major college programs began recruiting him, and Szypka decided it was time to give his full attention.
"That may sound like no big deal, but they win 10 games a year around here," Genoa track coach Todd Witt said. "He wanted to make his own trail."
Szypka became a full-time thrower. He and his personal throwing coach worked on his technique and foot work, and on Friday nights in the football season, Szypka was in the weight room getting stronger.
His increased attention to his craft is apparent. Szypka has improved his previous top throw in discus by about 20 feet, and in shot put by about eight.
Szypka's longest throw in shot put (59-10) is fifth best in the state among competitors from all three divisions, and he ranks ninth in discus at 171-5. In February he signed with the University of Kentucky, choosing the Wildcats over Michigan and Ohio State.
Szypka's sister, Shana, was a softball pitcher who led the Comets to the state semifinals in 2006. His father, Andy, is a member of the Genoa hall of fame.
Szypka said it was a tough choice to skip football.
"But I definitely wouldn't be where I am, and who I am, if I didn't make that decision," he said.
Reardon won the high jump title as an eighth grader at the Midland Athletic League junior high championships. Because of that title, he picked track over baseball in high school.
As a freshman, his top jump was 5 foot, 8 inches. A year later, Reardon and a teammate each exceeded St. Joseph's modest 6-foot school record. In the second meet of his junior season, Reardon soared higher than anyone figured possible.
"One meet everything worked and I started feeling good," he said.
He cleared 6-2, breaking the school record. Moments later, he broke it again, this time at 6-4.
"We were like, 'Whoa!' Brant's put some work in," St. Joseph coach Paul Grahl said.
Reardon had to do much of the work on his own. Grahl admits that neither he nor anyone on his coaching staff is well versed in the finer points of high jump, so Reardon had to seek out other methods to improve. Watching YouTube videos of renowned jumpers, such as Kansas State's Erik Kynard, the 2008 and '09 state champion from Rogers, served as a tutorial for Reardon to broaden his skills.
"I heard his name all of the time so I watched him," Reardon said.
At the end of his junior season, Reardon stood atop the podium of the Division III state meet with a winning jump of 6-7. He followed that up with an indoor state title in the winter, once again jumping 6-7.
"The dominoes were still falling the way they were supposed to fall," Grahl said.
When Reardon was younger, his goal was to become a college basketball player, perhaps at his favorite school, Ohio State. He was the MAL's player of the year this past basketball season, and twice was named all-league first team in football.
As it turned out, he will attend Ohio State, but in a scenario that seemed unrealistic just three years ago, he'll be going there as a scholarship track and field athlete.
"Obviously things started to change last year when I realized how good I can be at track," he said.
Szypka, who won two championships at last week's Suburban Lakes League meet, has never qualified for state, a sixth place finish in discus at last year's regional standing as his best showing. Still, he believes he'll prevail in both discus and shot put next month at the Division II state meet in Columbus. It would match the feat accomplished last year by Eastwood's Justin Welch, whom Szypka considers a mentor. Welch is now competing at the University of Georgia.
"I'm not saying that to be cocky, but that's how I've been throwing this year," he said.
First up for Szypka is district, which began yesterday at Oak Harbor with the shot put competition and continues tomorrow with discus.
For Reardon, his bid to repeat as state champion begins Saturday at the D-III district at Eastwood. His best jump to date is 6-10, which only two athletes from Ohio -- both Division I competitors -- have topped. At that same meet a few weeks ago, Reardon attempted to break the division record of 7-0, ordering the bar to be raise to 7-0.25. It may have happened had the heel of his shoe not clipped the bar during his descent.
"That's the goal this year, to get that record," Reardon said.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6160.