Penn St. getting Rockets thrower
Senior Christen Clemson didn't know much about track and field as a junior high student at Maplewood.
In fact, when Beth Hanuschak, a social studies teacher and junior high track and field coach, suggested Clemson should throw the discus, Clemson was confused.
"I looked at her and said, 'What's a discus?' " Clemson recalled.
"She took a look at me in seventh grade. I was really tall and I had really long arms," Clemson said. "Before then, I played softball. I wasn't even going to do track in high school."
Times have sure changed.
Early signs: "I handed her a shot [put] and disc, and everything thereafter is history," Hanuschak said. "As soon as she hit the ninth grade, we knew right then and there that this girl would be state caliber with no problem."
Until this week, the most-asked question Clemson posed to herself and those closest to her was, "Which college should I choose to continue my throwing career?"
From the time she wondered aloud to Hanuschak about that strange field event, Clemson has developed into one of the state's best throwers, with one of the state's best personalities. She'll take both to Penn State.
Before the week began, Clemson finalized her decision to attend the Big Ten school.
"The location was so nice," Clemson said of State College, Pa. "It's gorgeous there. I felt at home."
Clemson also had offers from Ohio State, Youngstown State, Kent State and Akron but settled on the Nittany Lions for their "tradition of good throwers. It's exciting to be able to join them," she said.
It didn't take Clemson long to learn the throwing events, especially the discus. She placed fourth in the state as a freshman, third as a sophomore and won the Division III title last season with a personal-best toss of 140 feet, 11 inches.
Following up: So, how does the defending state champion motivate herself for one more high school season?
"Every year about this time I set a goal for myself," said Clemson, who also plays basketball. "Last year my goal was 140 [feet]. This year I'd like my goal to be 170."
Clemson also has the state record of 150-9 in her sight.
"I'm hoping to crush it," she said.
Don't count her out. Clemson has been working since the summer with Youngstown State throwing coach Ed Wilson, who runs the Austintown Community Track and Field Club.
Clemson's strength in the throwing events matches her exuberance. She describes herself as outgoing, and she pinpoints two reasons for her actions.
"My coach was always telling me that I was too mild going into the ring," Clemson said. "So I picked it up where everybody knows that I'm there."
But there's more.
"When I was a freshman, in order to hang out with the guys who were seniors, I had to start speaking up so I wouldn't be trampled on all the time," she said.
Next in line: When Clemson steps onto the Penn State campus, she figures to learn from two other experienced throwers. In addition to the discus and shot put, she will also attempt the javelin and hammer throw.
A weight-training program and the added tutelage of Division I college coaches should make the 6-foot Clemson a threat in the Big Ten.
And now, with her decision made, Clemson can use the remaining days at Maplewood to focus on her development as an athlete, student and person.
"I wanted to sign early," she said. "I didn't want to worry about trying to juggle a full track and softball schedule, and picking a college."
Then, in the spring, if Clemson can advance to one more state competition with a chance to defend her title, she will feel at ease knowing one simple fact:
It won't be her last meet. It is only the beginning.
XBrian Richesson covers high school sports for The Vindicator. Write to him at email@example.com.