COLUMBUS — Talk about an eventful afternoon, but for the newly-graduated Justin Moore, talk about a last day — which happened to be the best day — of his Valley High School track and field career.
So much so, Moore believed he was ready for a 10K run in the heat —after throwing over 60 feet just less than an hour earlier.
“I feel amazing and I feel can run a marathon right now,” he said.
But instead, Moore stuck to what he does best —and in the Division III state shot put competition, he was exactly that.
There were times on Friday when he was losing his footing inside the shot put ring —a usual safe haven for the experienced six-foot and four-inch shot putter.
He even fell in the ring as a result —not once, not twice, but three times in fact, and even rolled his ankle on his very first throw.
But Moore, down early in the competition, only rose up —to the highest of heights at the annual state track and field meet, held at Ohio State University’s Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.
That’s because Moore, overcoming three fouls in his first four Friday throws, came back with two emphatic — and dramatic — tosses to capture the coveted state championship, as Moore’s best throw of 62 feet and 10 and one-half inches came on his final Valley heave.
That’s right — Valley High School, Scioto County, the Southern Ohio Conference, and even all of Southeastern Ohio has a state champion in an individual-oriented sport.
Moore was already a two-time Southeast District Division III champion and repeat Region 11 champion, but his goal —and his dream —was always realizing a state championship.
“It feels amazing. I’ve worked all year for this. I’ve had a really rough patch the last couple of meets, not throwing like I’ve wanted to. Even today, I started out rough, I twisted my ankle on the first throw, and it wasn’t looking good. But those last two throws, I just punched it out there and ended up winning. So it just feels amazing, kind of like you’re on top of the world,” he said. “You conquered all your dreams and you did what you set out to do. I can’t really explain the experience. And honestly, after three fouls, I didn’t know if I was going to be up there (on awards podium) or not. But luckily my coach Rusty talked me back down to Earth, and I ended up doing it.”
Moore concludes his career as a three-time all-Ohioan in the shot put —having finished eighth as a sophomore, before climbing three spots to finish fifth as a junior.
His freshman campaign was canceled by the Ohio High School Athletic Association because of the coronavirus threat.
Three years later, and in the 90-degree heat of Friday afternoon, Moore could breathe the freshest of air —standing proudly atop the awards podium as his name and accomplishment was read aloud over the Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium public address.
The last male athlete at Valley before Friday to win a state track and field championship was in 1978 — by Byron Arbaugh in the 880-yard run.
Before interviewing with The Portsmouth Daily Times to discuss his competition, Moore only had hugs for his parents Travis and Neva Prater — and his throwing coach Rusty Smith.
In fact, Moore and Smith shared a big bear hug —the very moment Moore found out his 62 10 and 1/2 had stood up as the state championship throw.
“That felt amazing to accomplish that,” said Moore, of celebrating with his family and Smith. “Just knowing that I made them proud and I succeeded and I did everything I said I was going to do at the beginning of the year.”
Not to mention an ear-to-ear smile as he stood atop the medals stands, and even a muscle flex for good measure.
Oh, and by the way, this was all BEFORE he competed in the heat-seeking Division III boys discus throw —only an hour after he was recognized for his shot put state title.
He finished fourth in the state discus with a best throw of 169 feet and nine inches —which came on his first of six total throws, which was the first of his three preliminary attempts.
More on that competition forthcoming.
About the only thing bothering him was that bit-of-a-bum right ankle —as he emerged from the shot put ring with a slight limp, following his first throw for a foul, and a noticeable fall.
“My bad ankle here, I’ve rolled it plenty of times. I think this is number seven rolling it in a meet,” said Moore. “By this point, I am getting used to it.”
As for what caused some slipping and sliding in the shot ring, and for those three falls, Moore spoke on behalf of himself and the other competitors —as he said the ring resembled a rink.
As in “almost like an ice skating rink”.
“It was very slick, very smooth. Usually, shot put rings are very rough. And that’s what you have these throwing shoes for. They are nice and smooth and they help you turn,” recalled Moore. “Well, that was just slick on slick today, and was going to get even more slick. It was just very hard to spin in that ring. You have to go very slow.”
Throwing through any pain, Moore responded from that first foul and fall to get one throw in and to count —a 56-foot and eight and three-fourths inches toss.
The shot put and discus do consist of three preliminary throws —with the top nine throws from the two prelim flights advancing to the finals.
There are then three finals throws, as the prelim throws carry over into the finals scoring —as the best throw of six is that competitor’s top-scored throw.
The top eight placers in each event at the state meet earn a spot on the awards podium, team points for his or her school, and all-Ohio accolades.
Moore moved on quickly, he said, from fouling —and falling — by just getting that second prelim throw in.
“The second throw, I kept it in and I had to keep it in and threw 56 (feet),” he said.
That was a good thing, given his next two throws — the closing preliminary and the opening finals — landed out of bounds to his left.
He stood fourth entering the finals round, as he tried his best to keep his balance on his first finals throw follow-through —but fell softer this time.
Fellow senior A.J. Schaefer of Columbus Grove, with a 59-foot and eight-inch toss, took the lead momentarily through the fourth attempts —but Moore made good when he took his fifth.
With focus, form and follow-through almost in unison, Moore launched the shot put for a distance of 61 feet and one and one-half inches.
Moore’s cheering contingent applauded loudly in approval, as he took the lead — as it turned out for good.
In the end, that 61-1 1/2 would have won the state title, as only two other attempts in the fifth round even counted —down from the four total tosses of nine that counted from the fourth round.
“I just launched that one out there and it took the lead,” said Moore. “I knew that if I could just get out and around and finish one of the throws that I could take first. My coach Rusty (Smith) helped me, calmed me down, told me what to do, and I did it and it worked.”
Still leading entering the final throw, Moore made sure to go almost two feet further —and splashed his 62 10-and-a-half into the gravel pit.
He fell on that throw, but watched the shot put land —and then turned to see if the official’s white flag was raised to make sure the throw counted.
It was, and he knew —and his cheerblock knew —he had pretty much locked up the state championship at that juncture.
“The last throw, I was in the lead, I was feeling good, so I punched it, I almost fouled but saved it and it went 62-plus,” said Moore. “If I would have maybe came up and around and I didn’t fall, it probably would have went farther, but I had to save the throw to win the meet.”
Moore received another rabid round of applause, as the only other throws that were close in that final round were runner-up Tyler Thompson of Rittman in 59-9 1/2 — and third-place Schaefer at 59-5.
As a junior and fifth-place finisher last season, Moore exceeded his own Valley shot put record on that afternoon —at 58 feet and six and one-quarter inches.
He then threw a new school record this season, standing at 63 feet and one inch — as he has now newly graduated.
Speaking of school records, in winning the Region 11 discus, Moore —after qualifying for the Division III championship as a sophomore but not as a junior —returned to Columbus in a major way for that event, throwing the disc a Valley all-time tops at 177 feet and eight inches.
In the prelims, as he had little time to rest after spending so much energy in winning the shot put, he threw 169-9 —followed by the other prelim throws of 167-8 and 160-2.
He was third entering the finals, but fouled on all three finals throws —as fellow senior Tadd Koch of Columbus Grove gained the lead on the opening finals throw at 175 feet and two inches.
That held up for Koch to take the state championship, as his fellow Bulldog senior teammate Lawson Maag made it good for a 1-2 Columbus Grove sweep.
Maag’s best throw, like Moore’s, was on his initial of six —at 173 feet and one inch.
Seth Apple (171 feet), a senior from Leipsic, was just ahead of Moore for third —by only one foot and three inches.
Moore, who totaled 15 (10 for first place and four for fourth) team points for the Indians, discussed his long road back to the state in the discus.
“It means a lot to make it back here and place (in discus). Last year, I didn’t even make it. Capped out at regionals, threw really bad, fouled all my throws. I really struggled in discus last year, and it didn’t go very well to be honest. It wasn’t going very well at the beginning of this year either, but I picked it up at the end of the year and began peaking out around 170. So to be out here all day, especially throwing shot and being able to place in the top four, it really means a lot,” he said. “Early in the year, my form was really bad and I was over-rotating and I was flying out of the ring a whole bunch. Eventually, I learned how to balance and stop over-rotating and get in the middle. I was getting the throws up better. I recently bought a brand new disc, which also helps a lot.”
It’s also noteworthy that Koch, Maag and Apple did not throw the shot put —only the discus for Friday afternoon.
Naturally, Moore was asked about throwing in the heat —and the fatigue factor, combined with the ankle twist from the initial shot put throw.
He did reveal that his first finals throw, had he not fouled, could have hit the 180-foot range.
“Had I been able to save that one, that would have been a new PR (personal record) and it probably would have won me the meet. But I wasn’t able to keep it in. You win some and you lose some,” said Moore. “I was pretty tired and if you looked who placed in front of me, those three didn’t throw shot. But I am not making excuses. I came out here and tried to throw the best I can. I ended up placing fourth, and I am happy with that.”
Moore made many supporters of his happy on Friday.
“We’re so happy for Justin and what he has accomplished this season,” said Valley track and field head coach Jason Fell. “Winning the state championship in the shot put on his last two high school throws shows the character and drive that he has had his whole career at Valley. We’ve had numerous great throwers make the podium and Justin was able to get it done and finish at the top. He has had a remarkable career, leaving as a three-time state placer in the shot put and once in the discus, as well as multiple district and regional championships and the school records in both. He leaves a legacy that will be hard to beat.”
As for the next adventure, which began this week, Moore begins his collegiate throwing career at Division I Boston University —and will throw the shot put, the discus, and the college-level offered weighted throw and hammer.
“I start college training next week (June 5 thru June 11),” he said.
But for Friday, it was indeed an eventful day for Moore —but he indeed made his last Valley day his best day.
“It’s just incredible. I love this feeling. If you would have asked me four years ago where I would be today, I definitely did not think standing right here and right now,” he said. “I never thought I was going to throw over 60 feet, I never thought I was going to win a state title. But it just proves that hard work and with dedication, you can do anything.”