Is it just me, or does it sound like a really bad idea to give hundreds of teenagers sharp steel spears to play with every day after school?
Each spring, kids with the attention spans of cocker spaniels are armed with javelins to throw around the athletic field for a couple of hours.
Doesn't that just sound like trouble?
Taylor Bremner, an athlete at Panguitch High, fell on a javelin a couple of years ago while chasing a bee, driving the tip through his eye socket and 4 inches into his brain. Miraculously, he suffered no permanent damage and was among the state's top throwers this season.
MacKenzie Boogaard, a sprinter at Hillcrest High at the time, took a javelin through the leg three years ago.
Many years ago, my brother Brian was the first to reach a girl on a field in Logan after she had been struck in the back with a javelin. The force drove the javelin out the other side through her chest. He fended off others who wanted to extract the javelin immediately until an ambulance arrived, and she was taken to the hospital in her skewered condition so she wouldn't bleed to death (she lived).
At the state track and field championships earlier this month, a newspaper photographer was struck through the knee by a javelin. It was his fault he ignored two warnings to stay clear of the javelin sector and wandered in anyway.
There have been similar accidents around the country wherever you find the javelin event. Javelins have pierced necks, heads, faces, shoulders, backs and ribs at the high school, college and professional levels.
One kid somehow managed to impale himself while throwing his own javelin. After a long jumper was pierced in the back by a javelin during a competition in Europe last summer, the IAAF recommended that the javelin not be held while other events are taking place inside the track.
Probably an overdue idea.
Who wants more shish-ka-bobbed athletes?
There's risk in everything, you could argue, but you wonder if the risk must include throwing a sharp metal point into the air?
Maybe they could find another event to replace it the machete toss or the M-80 throw.
The javelin also known as a weapon in some countries and anciently used for hunting and wars sounds like a bad idea, all right, but so do a lot of other sports. To wit:
• Aerial skiing. Yeah, great idea: Let's launch skiers 30 to 50 feet into the air, perform a few acrobatic maneuvers and then hope everything turns out OK.
• Auto racing. Driving 200 mph in rush-hour traffic, and some of the drivers now are women (memo to women: I kid).
• Gymnastics. Jumping and somersaulting on a 4-inch wooden beam?!
• Pole vault. OK, let's use a fiberglass pole and catapult people 13 to 20 feet into the air, and let's not wear a helmet.
• Boxing. No commentary necessary.
• Football kickoffs: Let's line up fast, 250-pound men and have them sprint 50 yards into head-on collisions with other fast, 250-pound men.
It's difficult to know where to draw the line, especially for a sport that tries to offer something for everyone small, large, fast, strong, gymnastic.
A few years ago, the Utah High School Activities Association surveyed the state's coaches to determine if the javelin should be retained as an event. The association voted overwhelmingly in favor of it, making Utah one of only 13 states that still sanction the event.
Track coaches are loath to lose another event. The pole vault already has been abandoned by some schools because of its inherent risks.
Changes have been made to make the javelin safer. When the javelin began flying out to 300 feet and beyond, they changed the aerodynamics of the thing so it couldn't fly as far. There have been proposals to put a rubber tip on the javelin, but purists resist it. We'll take this to mean they wouldn't want to replace the javelin with, say, a softball toss.
No matter how many precautions and rules there are and there are many mistakes and accidents are bound to happen, and it requires constant monitoring. At the state track meet, athletes were banned from throwing javelins in the general warm-up area north of the stadium but some of them did it anyway, tossing the spear in the same area where runners warmed up for their races.
"The javelin is a mixed bag," says Dave Wilkey, executive director of the High School Activities Association. "It's a great event. It's what I did in high school. I respected it. My dad was my coach, and he drilled it into me."But not literally.
Doug Robinson is an assistant football coach and head track coach at Alta High. Doug Robinson's column runs on Wednesday. Please send e-mail to [email protected].