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shot put

Kings Park shot putter grabs gold medal at indoor state track and field meet

Kings Park shot putter Danny Byrne stands atop the podium after placing first at the indoor state track and field championship. Photo from Danny Byrne

By Desireé Keegan

A local shot putter went to Albany in search of redemption, and he returned home with the ultimate hardware.

Kings Park shot putter Danny Byrne’s toughest opponent, Jack Zimmerman of Briarcliff, hadn’t thrown as well as expected, which lifted a weight off his shoulders and allowed him to just relax, and let it fly. Byrne’s 58-feet, 10.25-inch toss, a new personal best, won him gold at the state indoor track and field championships at Ocean Breeze Athletic Conference in Staten Island March 4.

Kings Park’s Danny Byrne hurls the shot put. Photo from Danny Byrne

“It was a surreal feeling — I dreamed about being a state champion,” Byrne said. “Right after the competition reality set in, and I started to cry. It was an emotional experience.”

The Long Island and Suffolk County indoor champ had won both meets during the spring of last year but didn’t perform the way he’d hoped when he made the trip upstate.

“It wasn’t what I wanted,” he said. “I didn’t prepare correctly for that meet last year, and now, I feel I definitely had revenge on the state championship. That spring performance definitely motivated me to work really hard to achieve what I achieved this season.”

Second-year head coach John Luis Damaskos said Byrne has been progressing since he took over the indoor team. He first had the chance to see his athlete compete when he attended a Kings Park football game, and said when he met Byrne on the track, he could already tell the type of competitor he was dealing with.

“He had a good mentality for training hard, and he was focused,” Damaskos said. “To see him train as competitively as he does but still be such a good, nice guy, it’s something a coach really looks for in an athlete.”

Assistant coach Rob Gelling said Byrne’s focus is what took him to the next level.

“I saw an intensity in his eyes for accepting nothing but first place,” he said. “I could see it when he was weight training, I could see it when he was doing drills, and I could see it in his desire to throw every day in practice.”

Byrne also took full advantage of a premiere throwing coach in Shoreham-Wading River’s Bill Heine and credits the football program for helping him add a few feet to his throw.

“It was without question one of the most emotional moments in my whole athletic career — from player to coach. Danny was overwhelmed. There were tears, there were hugs, and there were high-fives and fist pounds…”

—Rob Gelling

“I definitely did a very good weight-training program this year, and I credit the Kings Park football program for teaching me everything I know about lifting,” he said. “As for my technique in the circle, Bill Heine is the reason why I am where I am. His knowledge of track and field, and shot put specifically — I owe him a lot. It all came together and to reach my personal best, it made me feel really good to see all my hard work over the last four years pay off.”

His coaches were also moved by his state championship-winning moment. Damaskos said it was a long time coming.

“It was heartwarming,” he said. “He’s always trying to do more, and it was something he was really proud of — we were all really proud of. Being an elite thrower, he helps out the younger throwers on the team, and he has a great rapport with other throwers on the Island, so to see him be cheered on the way he was and reach this level of achievement, it was something special.”

Gelling echoed the head coach’s sentiment, adding that because he’s retiring, he feels lucky to have had coached a state champion in his final year with the team.

“It was without question one of the most emotional moments in my whole athletic career — from player to coach,” he said. “Danny was overwhelmed. There were tears, there were hugs, and there were high-fives and fist pounds from all the coaches who know him well from Section XI. His parents were ecstatic. He’s a pleasure to work with and I learned a lot from him.”

As Byrne looks ahead, the five-time All-Division, four-time All-County and three-time All-State selection has his sights set on the spring season.

“I’m looking forward to working hard, continuing to improve what I do and I think the sky’s the limit,” he said. “Whatever you put in, you get out, and I’m looking to defend this state title in the spring.”

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Shot put throwers Andy Suarez and Billy Grosse finished second and third, respectively, at a meet at Suffolk County Community College’s Brentwood campus Jan. 29, both tossing over 50 feet. Photos by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Comsewogue has never had a thrower capable of hurling a shot put over 50 feet, that is, until this winter boys’ track and field season. In fact, there are two Warriors —Andy Suarez and Billy Grosse — who have been breaking the school record meet after meet this year, and Jan. 29 was no different.

Reno Molina finished third in the 55-meter dash with a time of 6.87 seconds. Photo by Bill Landon

The seniors placed second and third at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood. Grosse had set a new school record with his toss of 50 feet, 11 inches, but it was short lived. Suarez sent his first shot put 50 feet, 8 inches, but came up moments after Grosse, and set a new record with his second toss of 50 feet, 11.25 inches.

After the last meet before the Suffolk County finals, the two remain ranked in the Top 15 throwers in the state.. Both will have their work cut out for them come then, because Kings Park’s Dan Byrne ruled the day with a toss that measured 56 feet, 9 inches.

“If I’m not throwing as well as I know I can, I’ll go off to the side and practice my form,” Suarez said. “I listen to what my coach is saying because I can’t look at myself, but he watches very closely.”

Comsewogue head coach Brad Posnanski said he knew the duo had the potential to throw as well as they have been, and said all season long the two have only pushed each other to work harder.

“Last year Billy Grosse threw 48 feet, 10 inches, and Andy Suarez had thrown 47 feet,” he recalled. “Earlier this season they both got better and better. Andy was the first to throw 50 feet, and then Billy threw 50 feet and we’ve never had that. They’re both great friends so to have two throwers over 50 feet is something pretty special.”

Travis Colon finished the 55-meter hurdles in 8.55 seconds for sixth place. Photo by Bill Landon

The meet, titled “Last Chance,” was an opportunity for the athletes to better their performance to gain a higher seed before the county championship, and other Warriors also made their presence known.

Coming back from a minor injury, sophomore Reno Molina clocked in a 6.87 seconds in the 55-meter dash to finish third behind Miller Place senior Bick Niemcyzk (6.85) and East Islip senior Andrew Moschetto (6.83). Sophomore Travis Colon took advantage of that opportunity, placing sixth overall in the 55 hurdles with a time of 8.55. He’s already an All-League competitor after placing sixth in the League IV championship last year.

“Reno Molina is a pleasant surprise,” Posnanski said. “Where he is in the county speed-wise, and he has the best chance to make a statement in the counties next week. My hurdler [Travis Colon] has made tremendous improvements with his technique with hard work and just sticking with it.”

Posnanski said he has been impressed with his younger runners on the team, who’ve bettered their times all season long.

“I have such a young team, so I didn’t have any expectations,” the coach said.

But Matt Krieg, who placed ninth in the 1,000 in 2:56.55, caught his eye.

Matt Krieg finished ninth in the 1,000-meter in 2:56.55. Photo by Bill Landon

“He’s tough when he runs and he’s a competitor,” the head coach said of his Warrior. “He won the freshman championship meet this year.”

Sophomore Brandon Bailey clocked in at 1:39.96 in the 600, for 22nd overall.

The county championships are will be Feb. 4 at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood at 10 a.m.

Grosse said he and his teammate will be ready.

“It’s all about repetition — we’ll get as many throws in as possible, lift some weights and then rest a day or two before the counties,” he said. “Andy was running and only began throwing this season, and having him around has been more important than anything, because without him, I wouldn’t be pushing myself the way I am.”