By Todd Hummel
The Daily Item
What would you say if I told you the best boys discus thrower in District 4 doesn’t practice in a circle at his home track?
Or, doesn’t even have a throwing coach
You’d probably say that’s pretty darn impressive.
Those are some of the obstacles that Midd-West senior Jacob Shaffer has faced heading into Saturday’s District 4 Class AAA meet at Athens High School.
“We don’t have a circle (at Midd-West), so he does a lot of his work on macadam,” Midd-West track coach Jason Gemberling said.
In fact, when Gemberling recruited Shaffer for track and field, it was as a jumper.
“Track is such a new sport at my school and our coach (Jason Gemberling) does a great job of getting kids out for track and field,” Shaffer said. “He told me, ‘Jake, you’ll be great.’”
“Except, it was as a jumper,” Shaffer joked.
Gemberling, a jumper and hurdler in high school at Warrior Run, had perfectly good reasons for steering his young charge to the jumps. Gemberling has a no throwing coach and Shaffer had the body type of a jumper.
However, Shaffer’s knee couldn’t hold to the rigors of jumping.
“When that happened, that’s when I really started taking throwing seriously,” Shaffer said.
Gemberling says he’s gotten some help, but Shaffer does a lot of his own technique tweaks through video work.
“I joked a couple of weeks ago when everything started clicking for him, when they asked who coaches him, just say that I manage him,” Gemberling said. “He’s been to camps at Shippensburg, Penn State and Cornell. He just really loves to throw. He does a lot of it on his own.”
When he made the switch to throws, the discus just seemed to fit Shaffer — whose top throw is 163-9 earlier this season at the Susquehanna High School Classic.
“I’m terrible at javelin and my shot put is not the greatest,” Shaffer said. “They are each an event of their own.”
Besides his hard work, the son of Jeff and Cindy Shaffer of Beavertown also had some extra motivation heading into his senior season.
He finished third in the district last season at 142 feet, failing to qualify for the PIAA meet. Shaffer — who is headed to Cornell University to throw and study animal science — is looking to become the first male athlete at Midd-West to qualify for the state meet.
“Definitely, after that finish last year, I was expecting to do well and when I didn’t, it kind of drove me,” Shaffer said. “All I thought about in the weight room was thinking about that third-place feeling.”
Shaffer has been consistently in the 150s and 160s this season, but there is one threshold he’s yet to cross in competition — 170 feet. The PIAA champion — Bryan Pearson of Bangor Area – was the only thrower to best 170 feet last year at Shippensburg. David Lucas of Warwick has the longest throw in the state this season at 180-6.
“I’ve done 170 feet in practice but never in competition,” Shaffer said. “With the postseason coming up, I’ve been spending a lot of time watching video and doing technique drills. It’s taking up all of my focus (right now).”
In fact, Gemberling gave the Mustangs the day off, but Shaffer took that opportunity to head over to Susquehanna University to do a little work.