The first thing you notice about Forreston-Polo boys track & field team thrower Jace Coffey is his size – or rather, the lack of it.
A Polo junior, he stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 195 pounds. That relatively small stature was evident at the 2018 IHSA Boys State Track & Field Meet in Charleston, where Coffey had qualified for the discus.
Lee Bush, a former coach of Coffey’s, was in attendance and snapped a picture of a line of weightmen.
“I was the smallest one there by probably 4 inches,” Coffey said. “It was kind of funny to look at. It looked like I was in the land of the giants. There was little ol’ me there, standing next to these big guys.”
Despite his lack of size, Coffey has been coming up big in his specialty – the discus.
“The past 2 weeks, I’ve really been starting to feel good about myself,” Coffey said. “I was throwing consistent 150s. I was ready for a breakout throw, but I just didn’t know when it was going to happen.”
As it turned out, that breakout came on Monday, April 15, in a seven-team meet hosted by the Cardinals.
A right-handed thrower, the first thing Coffey does on meet day is check the wind direction. On that day, it was a crosswind from the right at about 15 to 20 miles per hour – a perfect breeze for keeping the discus elevated.
“Right away I’m thinking, ‘This could be my day,’” Coffey said.
His first throw was no prize. He estimated it to be around 160 feet, but was at least 20 feet to the right of the boundary line.
The next throw, however, was something to behold.
“I threw it, but honestly, I didn’t think much of it,” Coffey said. “Then I started hearing people cheering. I started looking for it, and it was still in the air. It landed finally, and I was like, ‘Ooh, that’s a good one.’ I started jumping around. I was pretty happy.”
The tape measure that is usually used to measure discus throws at Forreston High School goes up to 165 feet. The discus landed beyond that.
A second tape measure was soon rounded up. This one, a 200-footer, belonged to teammate Ethan Phillips, a fellow thrower for the Cardinals. He and Coffey sometimes train on their own and use the longer tape measure to check their throws.
For this one, every precaution was taken.
“It was super windy, so we had four people holding the tape measure to make sure it was still in a straight line,” Coffey said.
Finally, the word came. The throw measured 172 feet, 3 inches. It was a personal best by 16½ feet. It was also a new Polo High School record, eclipsing the 161-3 thrown by Jono Gorzny in 1995.
“Everybody was coming up, shoulder bumping me, everybody was cheering,” Coffey said. “It was like going to the carnival for the first time. It was the best feeling ever.”
Coffey ended up reaching out to Gorzny via Facebook later that night, to send a message that the long-standing Polo discus mark had been broke. He soon discovered that day was also Gorzny’s birthday. A return message from Gorzny was nothing but gracious.
“He was like, ‘Congratulations, you’re a beast. I’ve been waiting so long for someone to break that record. Records are meant to be broken and I’m so glad that somebody finally did,’” Coffey said. “He also said, ‘Now forget about that record and go get a medal at state.’”
Coffey is quick to credit assistant coach Steve Christensen with his discus prowess. Christensen works with the Cardinals’ throwers and has just the right touch, according to Coffey.
“He tells us everything we’re doing wrong, everything we’re doing right, and he can break it down so perfectly,” Coffey said. “He is so good at adjusting our form to how we like to throw. I don’t even know what I’m doing sometimes. I just get in there and think, ‘OK, let’s try to throw it far and hope I’m doing it right.’ Coach makes sure I’m doing it right.”
Coffey placed eighth at state in the discus as a sophomore with a throw of 150-7. He entered the competition seeded 17th with a sectional distance of 143-5.
The Forreston H.S. record in the discus is 179-6, set by Aaron Ruter in 2004.
“It would be nice to get one out there to beat that record too,” Coffey said. “The end-of-the-year goal is to take first or second at state.”