Shot-put circle is center stage at Chandler Rotary Invite


The Chandler Rotary Invitational, which will be held for the 78th time today and tomorrow, always showcases the best in high school track & field, often including record-breaking performances from the top prep athletes from all over the country.

Normally, fan anticipation centers on the expectation of record-breaking times on the oval track at Chandler High‘s Austin Field.  Many of the times recorded are among the best in the nation since the field of thousands of participants is littered with state champions from all over the country.

Many of those record-breaking performances come from athletes right here in Arizona high schools.  Just three years ago, locals set three national marks in the same event when Dani Jones from Desert Vista High School, one of the best distance runners this state has produced, clocked 44.46 in the 1,600 meters to set a new state record and post the fastest time in the nation at that point.  Then Carolos Villarreal from Rio Rico High School set a couple more national best times in the boys’ mile (4:12.50) and 1,600 meters (4:11.26).

Two years before that, Ky Westbrook from Chandler High provided the excitement via the sprints.  A junior at the time, she won both the 100- and 200-meter dashes, setting state and national marks in each.  Her time of 11.47 in the 100 set a meet record and was the fastest time in the country.

In 2012, it was Devon Allen from Brophy Prep who stole the spotlight by breaking a 32-year-old state record for the 110 high hurdles (13.62).  And if that wasn’t enough, Jaide Stepter, a senior at Canyon del Oro High School, erased a 27-year-old record in the girls’ 300 hurdles by turning in a winning time of 42.18.

And there are so many other examples, too numerous to include here.

Many state records have been set, and top national times have been recorded at the Chandler Rotary over the years.  It gets increasingly difficult to win events as each year passes and the Rotary field continues to expand.  In 2010 there were 96 entrants, which was a record at that time.  Last year drew more than 4,000 entries from 154 schools around the country.  And tomorrow, 160 schools are expected to send representatives.

Normally, it’s the speed of the sprints or the endurance and strategy of the distance events — and the local stars who compete in them — that draw the fan interest.

But this year, there will be good reason to turn their attention to the infield.

That’s where Tyson Jones will be performing. Last year, the senior at Goodyear’s  Desert Edge High School won the shot put at the Rotary, setting a new meet record with a throw of 66’8″.  That performance got noticed.  And this year he will become a main attraction.

Jones is on a tear, starting the outdoor season by breaking one of the state’s legendary records, a mark that has stood for 60 years, creating the impression it might never be broken.

His huge heave of 69′ 7.25″ at the season-opening Buckeye Invitational broke the state shot-put record of 69′ 3″set in 1958 by Dallas Long, who set the record as a senior at North High School in Phoenix.  In a personal note to the youngster, the 77-year-old Long, who set and then beat the national high school record three times in 1958, said it was “about time” someone broke his record.

The national high school record is 81’3″, which has been on the books for the last 39 years.

For those living in Arizona at the time, Long became a media darling as fans followed the local’s high-profile career as he went on to compete at USC and then won a bronze medal at the 1960 Olympics and a gold in 1964.

And now Jones wants to set the bar even higher for those who will follow after him.  Last week, at the Willie Williams Classic at the University of Arizona, he hit 70′ 4 1/2″ to become just the 29th American high schooler to break the 70-foot mark.

Now he says he’s aiming for 74… maybe even 75 feet.

And that’s why he will continue to draw fan interest and media attention as his stats grow larger.  Everyone wants to get a good look at the 6’5″, 295-pound kid that took down a record that had grown over more than a half-century to almost mythical proportions.  There aren’t going to be too many opportunities to do that before Jones heads off to begin his college career at Virginia Tech.

The Chandler Rotary is the perfect time to catch his next performance because against the elite-level competition he will face at this event, the youngster will likely to be pushed to even greater heights.