Here I was, age 49, helping the local track club by teaching the shot and discus. Intrigued by the enthusiasm of the kids and having a desire to increase my knowledge, and to improve my coaching, it seemed a logical progression to start throwing. It was fun. The next step was to look into masters track competitions. The MastersTrack.com website showed an upcoming meet in Cat Spring, TX called the Grunt. It was held at Almosta Ranch owned by Mark Chapman and Cheryl Mellanthin. I called and spoke to Cheryl. I told her that I was a novice and was interested in competing but I was really looking for some advice about throwing. Cheryl assured me, "There'll be plenty of people willing to give their advice."
Driving into Almosta Ranch it was apparent that this was something a bit different than any other competition I'd ever been to. Maybe it was the long gravel drive that led up to house and then a barn and a smaller out-building. After parking the car and noticing the throw venues were in a small pasture Cheryl was in the middle of things holding a clipboard. After we exchanged introductions Cheryl pointed toward the house where the registration fee was being collected. Lining the approach to the front door were tables filled with food. I found one with cakes and pies and deposited my fee—a large batch of double fudge brownies. As far as registration fees go this was the strangest. "Just bring something to eat if you want."
The first event in the competition was the javelin. Never having thrown a javelin before I boldly stepped up and exclaimed, "Does anyone have an 800 gram javelin I could borrow?" A silver haired pony-tailed man with a body builder physique said, "Just a minute." He disappeared into a trailer attached to a pick-up truck with Louisiana plates. A moment later, Vince Breaux reemerged with two javelins. His trailer was full of throwing equipment that he brought with him from Alexandria. Thank goodness for the Louisiana contingent. The food was outstanding due to their contributions. Especially tasty was the boudin offered while we were still throwing. What an energy boost.
What struck me early on was the competition. In the Javelin Bobby Barnes—at the time ranked number three in the world—took pity on me and taught me proper javelin technique. Former Olympic hammer thrower, Tom Gage from Montana, got off some impressive throwers. Jim Gerhardt, a triple jump competitor in the 1952 Olympic Games, was there competing very well in all the throws.
The graciousness of the people is what really stuck out in my mind. This was competition based on the enjoyment of the sport. Everybody encouraged one another. Effort was applauded, not in a patronizing way but in a way that affirmed each competitor according to their abilities.
One of the most courageous performances was by Skip. He had suffered a stroke during the previous year and the right side of his body was useless to him. So Skip threw left-handed. His performances amounted to a mere fraction of when he was healthy but Skip’s efforts were widely admired. He became the symbol of the Grunt. Compete to the best of your ability.