FORT PAYNE — No one at Fort Payne High School has thrown a 12-pound ball farther than Nate Crane.
The senior broke a 27-year-old track and field school record in the shot put during the 12th annual Huntsville Panther Invitational, tossing the ball 51 feet, 2 inches and earning first place at the meet in Huntsville.
“I was just really excited and honored to manage to break a record that stood for that long,” Crane said. “I thought the coolest part of it was that the record was 27 years old.”
Fort Payne’s previous shot put record was held by Reggie Nixon. Nixon set the record at the state meet in Selma in 1993, said C.M. Sanford, DeKalb County Sports Hall of Fame president.
Crane credited his record-breaking throw to his coaches for instilling proper technique within his throwing exercises.
“Anyone can be good at shot put if they have a good coach that teaches good technique and what not to do,” he said.
Crane has worked with head coach Selena Penton and assistant Cole Peters throughout his training sessions. Although he often works alone, as do most athletes competing in field events.
“What really stands out to me with (Crane’s) training is his work in the weight room,” Penton said. “He lifts weights on his own time outside of practice. I believe that was instrumental in his ability to break the school record in the shot put.”
Crane’s first-place finish last weekend was his second overall win in as many meets. He threw 49 feet, 3 inches to win the shot put event at the Cullman Invitational on March 7.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Crane’s record-breaking performance was that he accomplished it in only his second year competing in the sport.
In his first season with the team, Crane finished seventh in the shot put event at last year’s state meet.
Crane said he joined the track and field team as a junior after much encouragement from his friends. He was playing football in the fall and basketball in the winter, but didn’t have a springtime sport.
Crane’s decision to become a part of Fort Payne’s field unit has been beneficial to both himself and the team.
Sanford, who is an assistant coach with Fort Payne, said in his nearly 40 years of coaching track and field, Crane became just the third athlete on a team he’s coached to throw 50-plus feet in the shot put.
Sanford said breaking 50 feet in the shot put can be a mental barrier, even when an athlete has the necessary ability. He likened a 50-foot throw in the shot put to breaking 2 minutes in the 800-meter run, or 50 seconds in the 400-meter race for boys and 60 seconds in the 400-meter race for girls.
“Nate saw last year that he was close (to the school record) and he set a goal to get it,” Sanford said. “Even last week, he was a little worried he might not get it. With this virus deal he was lucky to get one more chance. I have seen him practicing at the shot area after everyone else was finished. ...He put in the extra work and it paid off. If we have a state meet, he will have a shot.”
Crane pulled off his record-breaking throw under extraordinary circumstances. With the window on track and field meets around the state quickly closing due to rising coronavirus concerns, Crane was fortunate to get one more opportunity to compete before the mandatory statewide shutdown of all athletic activity.
With several area meets canceling due to a number of schools dropping out, Fort Payne assistant coach Ashley Jackson knew Crane’s willingness to continue competing and was determined to find a meet for him.
Last Thursday, Jackson saw that the Huntsville Panther Invitational still had open registration and she entered Crane in the shot put event. The next day, Penton received an email from Huntsville’s meet director, saying that the meet was likely to be canceled.
Jackson continued her search, but came up empty.
Luckily, Jackson received confirmation of the Huntsville meet later last Friday.
“I immediately called Nate and his mom to inform them that we could go and he could throw,” Jackson said. “...To see someone work this hard and be able to accomplish what they have set out to do in these tough times with so many uncertainties was great.”
Said Penton: “I do not know what the future holds for this track season. I am thankful that Nate had one more chance to go for the record before the school closings.”