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Shot in the arm

Sheffield’s Leichtenberger breaks longtime record

Submitted Photo Sheffield Wolverines track and field members, pictured, from left, are: Emily Leichtenberger, Kassidy Orinko, Jesse Campbell and Emily Foster celebrate a record-breaking day at the 32nd annual Oil Country Track and Field Invitational on Saturday in Oil City.

OIL CITY — Emily Leichtenberger knows her Sheffield track and field history.

How can she not? First-year coach Jason Snell says he’s caught her checking out the school’s track and field records board on multiple occasions.

“We take our daily attendance every day outside of our gymnasium with our track and field records board right there,” he said. “I don’t think I have ever seen Emily walk past that board without stopping and admiring the names, the distances and what her goals to shoot for are. The discus and the javelin records are also within her reach. 2013 javelin school record holder and former Pitt-Bradford basketball star Jen Isenberg has been reaching out to us and encouraging Emily to go break her record.”

At Saturday’s 32nd annual Oil Country Track & Field Invitational at Oil City High School on Saturday, the senior thrower didn’t break either of those school records. She broke what was a 39-year-old shot put record previously held by Rhonda Heckathorn, set in 1982.

“Rhonda’s record was a throw of 33 feet, 4 inches,” said Snell. “Emily Leichtenberger’s last and final throw in the finals of the shot put landed her on the record board with a throw of 33 feet, 10.75 inches. That throw earned her a fifth-place finish and her third trip to the medal podium of the afternoon.

Submitted Photo Emily Leichtenberger’s record-breaking throw in the shot put.

“Emily took third place in the discus event with a throw of 96 feet, 3 inches and also placed third in the javelin with a throw of 106 feet, 6 inches,” said Snell. “Freshman Emily Foster also made an appearance on the medal stand earning fifth place in the high jump event at 4 feet, 8 inches. Wolverines freshman jumper Kassidy Orinko and senior thrower Jesse Campbell also competed at this huge invitational that hosted over 20 teams.

“Emily had a throw of 32 feet, 7 inches in the prelims to advance her to the finals in shot, which gave her three more throws,” he said. “We knew if she equaled her height, velocity and arm speed, the record was going to fall in the next three throws. It took all three to get there, but it was so bittersweet. Leichtenberger placed fifth in a very stacked talentwise event, but got the biggest ovation of the event. Word was getting around that she was close and all of her competitors and opposing coaches were rooting her on. When they read the distance, the eruption was loud and filled with hugs, high-fives, and even a few tears.”

Losing an entire track season as a junior “was a really tough setback,” said Leichtenberger. “I always wanted to break a school record when I first started track and when I started throwing farther, I thought it would be a different event. I never thought that I would break the shot put record. It takes a lot of time to work on getting stronger, faster and to work on getting the right technique. While playing softball, I didn’t have the time I needed to get better.”

Leichtenberger started focusing on track and field.

“I just want to keep improving and throwing farther and see how well I can do at districts,” she said.

Snell said this shot record isn’t the end of Leichtenberger’s senior season. Not even close.

“I have had the privilege of coaching Emily Leichtenberger since seventh grade when she first began,” he said. “We were also lucky enough to get her father, Joe, as an assistant coach when she began. He is the ‘Javelin Einstein’ and has helped so many kids, including Emily, become great javelin throwers in the past six years. As a throwing coach at the time, and being an assistant off and on since 2003, the first time I saw Emily throw a javelin in seventh grade, I knew right there and then, OK this girl has what it takes to be one of the elites. Now to get a discus and a shot put in her hand as well … because of the amazing athlete she was, she began her track and field career as a javelin thrower and a jumper. It wasn’t until her eighth-grade year when she first threw a shot put in competition. We had a home meet and there was only one girl from the other school competing in the event. I went over to the jumping pits and explained to her the situation and encouraged her, with her strong arm, she would possibly win the event; would she please drop a jumping event and come try it. … Not only did she win the event that day, she beat almost all of our boys distances, too. After showing her some stats of the boys and where she was at, she has been totally committed to throwing circles and runways since.”

Leichtenberger will attend Penn State in the fall, majoring in architectural engineering. But, not yet.

“This shot put school record isn’t her Cinderella ending,” said Snell. “It’s just one of the many clay pigeons (goals) she has yet to shoot out of the sky (referencing that she is also a very successful member of the Sheffield trapshooting team in which her father is the head coach). With the season winding down, she has a couple more school records to shoot for, a return trip to districts to compete in all three throwing events, and the icing on the cake — a trip to Shippensburg University to compete in the PIAA Track & Field finals.”

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