by Andrew Garda
COLUMBUS—“The circle is yours.”
Before any thrower steps onto the launching pad to throw a discus, they have to wait until the previous hurler retrieves their discus and clears the field. Only then will an NJSIAA official signal the next athlete that the way is clear for them to throw.
The official at the discus circle during Saturday’s NJSIAA Meet of Champions added a little flourish.
“The circle is yours,” he said to each athlete as he stepped out of the way.
For Montclair High School’s Shelby Bigsby, the circle was hers all season long.
The senior finished her stellar New Jersey high school career by winning an overall state championship in the shot put and taking second in the discus at the MOC, held June 9 at Northern Burlington Regional High School.
Bigsby topped the shot put competition with a throw of 47 feet, 5.25 inches to become Montclair High’s first outdoor Meet of Champions winner since Shantal Athill won for state long jump crown in 2009.
Bigsby also won an indoor state title in the shot put this year, becoming the first Mountie to do that since 2004, when Andrew Anderson won the boys’ 400 meters and current head coach Sophia Kenny (then-Wallace) won the girls’ 55-meter dash.
Meanwhile, Bigsby’s discus throw of 131-8 was just five inches behind Demarest’s Catherine Light, who needed a personal best to edge the Mountie star.
Oh, and Bigsby did all of that suffering from the after effects of food poisoning.
“I will never ever eat Domino’s again,” Bigsby said after her shot put win. “I swear, I was on my death bed. I was literally dying. And I was so upset because I had to miss the track banquet.”
She’d also been aiming to top 50 feet in the shot put, but was held back because of lingering exhaustion due to her illness.
“When she won the Meet of Champions today, she wasn’t smiling,” head coach Kenny said after the meet. “I had to tell her ‘Yo, smile. Yes, you are a competitor, yes, you want to throw above 50, and do well and drop a distance. You’re No. 1 in the state and regardless of the distance you threw, take that in and enjoy that. Because it’s been a long road.’”
That long road began five years ago, when throwing coach Vincent Pelli received a text message from former New York Giants offensive lineman Roman Oben, who was then Bigsby’s rec team coach.
“[Roman was] asking if we could sit down and go over my coaching philosophy, so he could see if he could trust Shelby in my hands,” Pelli recalled. “Luckily, I guess I did pretty well that day.”
Pelli also recalled Kenny telling him to watch out for Bigsby at the Glenfield School eighth grade track meet as well.
“And she was great then, so I knew she was going to be something big,” Pelli said. “She never smiled, and I think it took her like a year before she smiled, she always had a serious look on her face.”
For shot put coach Henry Wilson, that seriousness is all about dedication and passion.
“I can’t say I’ve met a lot of people with her passion, her drive to always want to be the best no matter what’s going on. And always giving you full effort no matter what,” Wilson said. “Another thing about her that’s super-crazy is, she’s one of the few people who I know will set a goal, get to the goal, and unlike most kids she’s not super happy, she always goes ‘What’s next? What’s my next step?’”
For Bigsby’s father, Bill, the whole coaching staff has been great to his daughter.
“Coach Kenny doesn’t know a ton about shot, but is a heck of an encourager,” he said after his daughter was crowned shot put champion. “Coach Washington, with the workouts, and the straightforward type person that he is. Coach Pelli, he’s an extreme motivator in his own way. The way he encourages is different.”
As good as his daughter is with all those coaches, he sees the relationship between Shelby and Wilson as something different.
“Henry and I used to just nod at each other. Then one day Pelli brought him over to introduce him to me, and we started talking,” Bill Bigsby recalled. “He’s been good to Shelby. Henry’s like a big brother to Shelby, even though she has one. Basically she has two older brothers. Henry’s been a great asset to Shelby. I know my wife feels the same way. But he’s also learned something from her. We love him for the person who he is outside of being a coach.”
The closeness is always evident when watching Wilson with Bigsby, as the two have an easy back and forth no matter the situation.
When Shelby was ill during the track banquet and worried about how she might perform the next day in Columbus, Wilson was there to put an arm around her and relax her, just as he had at any stressful time whether it was track season or not.
As far as the Bigsby family is concerned, Montclair track has a gem in Henry Wilson.
“I can honestly say he has a passion for throwing,” Bill Bigsby said. “He’s not just a chaperone for the sport. He’s always trying to see, no matter what the situation is at that particular time, what do I need to do top get this one better? He’s got a lot to offer because of the love of the sport.”
Shelby will compete in Nationals down in North Carolina next weekend however, so her high school career isn’t quite finished. But as his daughter’s MHS career winds down, Bill Bigsby can look back on the last four years with pride in both her success and her efforts to gain it.
“She’s always been dedicated,” her father said. “We didn’t choose the sport for her. She chose it. She picked the shot up when we were in the MVP track club in Glen Ridge, and on the way home she was like, ‘This is what I want to do.’”
Bigsby was so committed to be good, her father ended up spray-painting a throwing circle in the basement where she would go and practice on rain days.
While she will be throwing all the way up at the University of Albany, that circle — as well as the one at Woodman Field — will always be hers.
Mounties perform at MoC
Along with Bigsby’s efforts the Mounties were represented by Nyjah Young-Bey in the 100 and 200 meters, as well as the 4×400 relay squad of Young-Bey, Elizabeth Cummings, Rachel Handelman and Ella McAdams.
Young-Bey finished 13th in the 200 and 20th in the 100m, while the 4x400m team finished 14th overall.
Kenny was very proud with how the team competed.
“Big shout out to Shelby. 1-2 finish in shot and disc, Nyjah in the 100, 200 and 4×400 and the relay going sub-4:00 and running a very good race,” she said.
This was the last time Kenny and her staff get to work with the seniors of the group, like Bigsby, Cummings and Handleman.
“I knew when this group was sophomores that it would be difficult to say goodbye to them as seniors,” she said. “Only because it’s just a special class. You love them because they’re great kids, and in the same breath sometimes you just want to yell at them because they’re so smart and talented but they don’t see it in themselves. To see them as seniors and heading off to new parts of their lives, it’s beautiful to see.”
Kenny said that part of the special bond with this class was that they grew together — the kids in high school and Kenny getting her graduate degree at Seton Hall.
“They’re celebrating a milestone while I’m celebrating one too, so we share something,” she said.
Wilson, relays run for Cougars
MKA senior Nick Wilson finished in 22nd place in the mile run at the MOC, while Wilson and the Cougar boys’ 4×800 relay team — comprised of Charlie Koenig, Victor Magnusson, and Ryan Magee also placed 22nd as well. The MKA girls’ 4×800 team, made up of Kelsey Freeman, Anna Schaller, Sarah Hobbs, and Anna Bradley, finished 21st overall.
The showing wrapped up a strong first season for the Cougars under head coach Matthew Bach.
Local runner finishes top 10 in two-mile
Montclair resident Jerika Lufrano, a junior at Union Catholic High School, captured a seventh-place finish in the girls’ 3200 meters Saturday.
She won sectional titles in both the 1600 and 3200 at the North, Non-Public A meet, and won the overall Non-Public A title in the two-mile last weekend. Lufrano was second in the mile run at that meet.
Next weekend, Lufrano will be at the New Balance Outdoor Championships, running the 5000 meters and distance medley relay.