New Tampa resident Zach Godbold was poised to conclude his high school athletic career on top of a winner’s podium.
At Wharton High School, Godbold had wrapped up his final varsity football and soccer seasons in the fall and winter, respectively.
His attention then turned to track and field.
He envisioned hoisting up the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA)’s first state-sanctioned title in the javelin throw, in the modern era.
After all, in 2019 Godbold won the FHSAA’s exhibition state title in javelin — as part of a provisional period for the track and field offering.
He picked up right where he left off this spring.
Godbold was ranked No. 1 in the state with a rubber-tip javelin throw of 55.15 meters. The mark was well ahead of the state’s No. 2 thrower, Pompano Beach Highlands Christian Academy junior Nick Veynovich, who had a personal best of 49.36 meters.
Then COVID-19 happened — wiping out the remainder of the Florida high school sports season in early March.
And, just like that, Godbold’s shot at making history vanished. His status as the de facto favorite to become the first officially recognized javelin state champion since 1950 was erased.
The FHSAA discontinued the javelin in 1950, due to safety concerns. It brought it back with some new procedures, such as using a rubber tip instead of a steel tip seen in college and Olympic-level competitions.
“It being my senior year and my first official chance, it was obviously disappointing,” Godbold said, in a recent interview with The Laker/Lutz News.
He felt for his fellow teammates and other athletes, too.
“I lost my season, but so did every other spring sport for every level, so everyone’s in the same boat,” Godbold said.
But, time has healed his wounds.
He missed out on a would-be historic state crown, but he has since shifted focus to his next challenge — competing on the University of Florida men’s track and field team.
He signed a college athletic scholarship, in May, to attend UF.
So, a missed opportunity that was completely out of Godbold’s control has become motivational factor for his burgeoning college career.
He has lofty expectations for his freshman season at Florida.
He’s aiming for a steel-tip javelin throw of at least 70 meters; his current top mark in the steel-tip throw is 60.38 meters.
As he prepares to move to Gainesville, the athlete has been keeping sharp through gym workouts and javelin throws, which he makes multiple times each week at Hunter’s Green Community Park in New Tampa.
“I’m hoping to come out and improve my personal best so much that no one sees it coming,” Godbold said. “I’m kind of eager to get out there and show what I can do after improving for a whole year.”
Wharton High track and field coach Kyle LoJacono sympathizes with Godbold’s missed opportunity to claim a historic achievement.
“My heart went out to the kid because of how much he’s done, he wanted to get that state championship,” LoJacono said.
Right up until the final meet of the season on March 7, Godbold went the extra mile both in training and at meets, the coach said.
LoJacono said the athlete lifted weights early in the morning and practiced track in the afternoon, while also juggling what was left of his soccer season.
“You would think that somebody’s who’s No. 1 might get a little bit complacent, but this year there was really none of that…because he really did everything as far as that strength and conditioning side,” LoJacono said.
His attitude, the coach said, was: “How can I make myself better?”
While Godbold’s senior season ended abruptly, LoJacono is eager to see Godbold’s potential for growth, as he heads to a Division I national powerhouse that’s claimed nine combined NCAA titles and 11 SEC crowns since 2009.
Said LoJacono: “It really is going to be special to see what he can do over the next four years.”
Javelin creates more opportunities
As Godbold heads off to new challenges, LoJacono is looking forward to the competitive growth of the javelin throw among the Florida high school ranks.
This season, the coach observed an uptick in participants in both local and county meets among boys and girls, compared to when it was a provisional, unscored offering the past couple years. “I’ve seen a lot more people do it. It’s already taken off in a positive way,” he said.
The discipline essentially requires an athlete to throw a spear for distance, and gaining momentum by running within a predetermined area.
In boys competition, the spear weighs 800 grams and has a length of 260 centimeters to 270 centimeters. In girls competition, it’s 600 grams and 220 centimeters to 230 centimeters long.
Mastering javelin requires a combination of sprint speed, strength, explosiveness, athleticism, and technique from the legs all way up to the throwing motion, LoJacono said. “It’s that whole kinetic chain.”
The recent reintroduction of javelin by the FHSAA ultimately could lead to more track and field scholarships for Florida high schoolers.
LoJacono explained those scholarships — namely at Florida colleges and universities — have been going to athletes from other states that offered javelin as a sanctioned high school event.
Bringing javelin back into the fold was forward-thinking on the FHSAA’s part, LoJacono said, because, “there was this whole talent base of kids who were not being served.”
Godbold is a prime example of that, as he first achieved statewide and national recognition in javelin on the AAU circuit as a teen.
Now that it’s a state-sanctioned event, Godbold, too, envisions a wave of youth and high school athletes who may discover an otherwise hidden gift.
“With (javelin) being in meets, and teams caring about points and trying to win meets, they would test out people in practice and throw people out there, so I think coming up in Florida, there’s going to be a lot more good javelin throwers than there have been,” Godbold said.
And, the greater exposure to javelin may create new opportunities, he added.
“I think there’s a lot of people who are playing other sports, maybe they’re a baseball pitcher or something, who have the talent to be able to go Division I in track and field,” Godbold said.
Published June 24, 2020