HIGHLAND SPRINGS, Va. -- A 12 pound ball rests on a field, waiting for it's fate.
It will fly through the air as far as it's master can manage. In the case of Highland Springs' senior Ben Clay, that distance has steadily improved over the course of the last three years.
Clay is the state indoor champion in the shot put, an event that receives little attention in a sport that does not generate much more. But for Clay, this is a vehicle to his future, one that requires more work than you might realize and one from which he thought of stepping away on more than one occasion.
"I wouldn't say quit, but take a break," Clay explained. "But I knew if I took a break, it's going to take a toll on my mind and my body and I would mess up. It'll take longer to get back than to just stay where I'm at."
So, Clay has stuck to it, enduring long practices and calling up pointers on YouTube. Any little change can make an exponential difference down the field.
"It's tedious to the point where a lot of kids come in, see how tedious it is, and they end up leaving," said Springers assistant track coach Russell Charity. "The ones that stay you know will be something special."
And Clay is something special. Aside from the state title where he threw a personal best 56 feet 8 inches. He's won several other meets this year. Unlike his precision in the circle, he's fuzzier on those details.
"Um... I'm going to say...actually I don't know," Clay admitted. "I'm going to say around five??"
"He's the hardest worker on our team," Charity added. "He's also like a third coach. We have a lot of freshmen. If we're working with other kids, he'll step in."
That hard work also extends to the classroom, where Clay will receive not one, but two diplomas at his graduation. One from Highland Springs and one from J. Sargeant Reynolds, having completed enough college coursework to earn an associate's degree while also finishing high school.
"We're not sugarcoating it. These are the college standards we go by," said Dawn Sherwood, a science teacher at Highland Springs and an adjunct professor at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College. "They have a syllabus from the beginning of the year. They may have 2 or 3 tests on the same day. These are your deadlines. There are no excuses."
"I can't have any late assignments," Clay added. "All my assignments have to be done on time and they have to be done correctly."
This requires a level of time management and focus to which many of us could aspire. For Clay it's helped sharpen his work ethic, even if he's a little fuzzy on his classroom results as well.
When asked if he knew his GPA, Clay responded: "No sir, I'm going to say it's around 3.5 maybe?"
"He's humble also," Sherwood said. "He doesn't say 'oh yeah, I won this or I just got this record.' We have to hear about it from his coaches."
"Everything we've ever asked for, he does it," Charity said. "I myself could not do what he's done at his age, taking college courses, having a job now, being that dedicated to his studies and a sport."
Originally, Clay had even more on his plate. Ever since middle school, Clay wanted to be in the Springer marching band playing the saxophone, but at certain point, his coach told him something had to give.
"You can do track and I'll get you a scholarship or you can do half track and half band and not be in a higher position," Clay said. "I took his word and left band for track."
The coach's words came true. Clay has signed a letter of intent for a scholarship to Farleigh Dickenson University where he will continue his studies in business and continue his studies in track.
"What he's done is remarkable," Charity said. "It's an honor and a privilege to see him."
Clay won the Region 5B shot put title with a throw of 53 feet, 5 inches, a foot and a half further than the second place throw. He also finished 7th in the discus after tossing the best throw in those preliminaries.
Next up is the state outdoor meet June 1st and 2nd.
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