There’s strength in numbers at Edison High School, where shotputters are more than a bunch of muscular athletes throwing their weight around.
“Anybody can pick up the shot and throw it. To put it 50 feet is another thing,” said Tony Ciarelli, who directs a shot program that is by far the best in the CIF Southern Section.
In five years as a walk-on coach, Ciarelli has developed the perfect blend of quantity and quality: a shotput crew of 40 that’s larger than many high school track and field teams, five individuals with personal bests of 50 feet or more and a sophomore, Kaleaph Carter, who is shooting for national records.
Like most high schools, Edison recruits the bulk of its shotputters from the football team. In fact, all five members of the Chargers’ 50-foot club played key roles for Edison’s CIF Big Five co-champions.
Carter, a 6-foot, 195-pounder who finished fifth in last year’s Southern Section 4-A shotput finals, was the Chargers’ starting tailback. Mike Smyser, a 6-0, 210 senior, was the starting fullback. Kevin Fairman, a 6-1, 255 junior, started at tackle. Doug Blanchard, a 6-3, 235 junior, started at guard. Gary Garcia, a 6-0, 235 senior, was a defensive lineman.
With three underclassmen in that group and a host of talent on the junior varsity and freshmen teams, the Chargers have a shotput dynasty in the making.
“Edison has been a big name in football, and now our shotput program is starting to do the same,” said Fairman, the school’s strongest athlete. “In years to come, people are going to look at Edison as a shotput powerhouse.”
In the case of the Chargers, having Ciarelli double as shotput and discus coach in the spring and strength coach in the fall certainly helps.
“I try to get most of the (football) linemen to come out if they look like they’re going to be big at all, and I especially try to enlist the freshmen,” Ciarelli said. “But we’ve never cut anybody. I’ve never told anybody to quit the team. I’ve got freshmen who can’t throw 35 feet. But who’s to say they won’t grow six inches and put on a few pounds by the time they’re seniors?”
Garcia is a case in point. As a 5-9, 185 freshman, he had the size but not the skills to excel in the event. In fact, his first couple of weeks were almost embarrassing.
“I wasn’t any good at all,” Garcia said. “I had never watched it before in my life, so it was a whole new thing for me. I had to learn the technique, the works . . . and I felt awkward at first. I didn’t know what to do with it. I was throwing, not putting, the shot. I felt kind of dumb and stupid.”
But by the end of his freshman year, Garcia could toss the 10-pound shot 45 feet. He improved to 47 feet with the 12-pound shot as a junior, and in Edison’s first dual meet this season, he turned in a 50-7 effort.
In contrast, Carter has been a star since his freshman year. He had a best of 55-2 last year, threw his personal best of 58-8 Thursday in a meet against Ocean View and has his eye on the national record for 15-year-olds (63-8). His personal best ranks second in the state this year. His long-range goals include the California prep record of 69-6 1/2 set last year by Capistrano Valley’s Brian Blutreich.
In the recent Orange County Invitational, Carter dropped to the freshmen-sophomore level, and the Chargers still took three of the top four varsity places. Blanchard won with a put of 52-9 1/2, Fairman was second at 51-11 3/4 and Smyser was fourth at 50-8 3/4.
The three accounted for 22 points to help Edison win the team title. Carter, trying for the frosh-soph meet record of 60-11, came up short when he threw the 10-pound shot 60-2 1/2.
Garcia? He was watching from the stands.
In an earlier throw-off to determine the Chargers’ three varsity entries in the invitational, Garcia had a personal best of 51-3--and wound up fifth among the five. That effort would have made him No. 1 at most high schools, but Garcia is happy where he is.
“If I was at some other school, I wouldn’t be working this hard,” he said. “Every practice, we’re watching each other. It’s almost like a meet in itself. When somebody has a bad day, the others try to take advantage of it by trying extra hard. It helps a lot, especially mentally, when you’re working with some of the best high schoolers around.”
The competition is so keen that during spring vacation, all five worked out Monday through Friday instead of Ciarelli’s scheduled three workouts.
“We have a real competitive spirit,” Smyser said. “I don’t think anybody wanted to lose an inch. We certainly didn’t want to waste a week partying. We all know that within a month and a half, the season will be over for two of us while it goes on for three others. Every bit of time we can use to our advantage will pay off at the end.”
Ciarelli won’t be satisfied with producing the best shotputters in the Sunset League. Being the best in Orange County won’t suffice, either. He wants to score a clean sweep of the Southern Section championships.
Last season, Edison took the top three places in the shotput in every Sunset League dual meet. The Chargers also took five of the top six spots in the Sunset League finals and finished second and fifth in the 4-A finals.
“I truly believe we could take the top five spots in the 4-A finals,” said Ciarelli, who is petitioning the CIF to waive its limit of three league entries per event. “Even major invitationals give you an allotted number of athletes per event. The tough part is knowing that you left people at home who could have placed.”
Ciarelli, who trained with Bill Starr, a well-known weight coach, when he attended the University of Hawaii, stresses weight work for his athletes. He brings them along slowly to teach proper technique, and employs the Olympic lifts of the snatch and the clean-and-jerk to improve explosiveness.
“The key in shot putting is speed,” Ciarelli said, “getting that shot to move as fast as possible.”
Edison shotputters also spend time on mental imagery. Across the shirts they wear to meets and workouts is a quotation from an ancient Chinese philosopher: “The vital force is very real and therein dwells truth.”
Said Ciarelli: “It’s there to remind them of what they have inside. The key in shotputting is focusing the energy in your body to enable that 12-pound ball to fly. It takes mental power to excel in this sport.”
But perhaps the biggest advantage at Edison is the daily competition at practice.
Carter will rely on Fairman and Blanchard to block for him once football season rolls around, but he’s getting no such support now.
“Shotput is an individual sport,” Carter said. “You’re trying to improve your effort, and when you look at your teammates, they’re nothing but opponents to you. It is them you have to beat in a meet.
“We’re competitive when we’re inside the ring, but when we’re not practicing or competing, we still have good times as friends.”
There’s a friendly relationship between Ciarelli and Fred Marquez, Edison’s head track and field coach. They’ve coached freshman football together for five years, but in the spring, Marquez works with the sprinters and leaves the weight crew to Ciarelli.
“Tony’s like the Pied Piper,” Marquez said. “It’s an ‘in’ thing to be on the shotput and discus team right now. He’s got a lot of guys out for our team that wouldn’t be there otherwise.”
One of those is Smyser, who had just finished playing freshman basketball when Ciarelli coaxed him into joining the track and field squad. Smyser had a respectable 46-foot effort with the 10-pound shot his freshman year and has made giant strides recently. His personal best with the 12-pound shot is 52-4.
“It’s the coach, far and above,” Smyser said in explaining his improvement. “We’re all pretty good athletes, but he’s taken our ability and taught us what to do with it.
“Other coaches might know the same techniques and they might know the proper way to lift weights, but I don’t know if they could bring it all together and present it to us the way he does. Ciarelli makes it fun. We definitely enjoy being out there, and that’s a big plus. We weren’t shoved out there just because we’re big people.”