QUINCY -- Jordan Johnson faced a difficult decision last summer.
Johnson, now a junior thrower for the Quincy High School track team, won the discus title in the 16-17 division at the USATF Hershey Junior Olympic Track & Field Championships in July in Lawrence, Kan., with a throw of 172 feet, 8 inches. The school record for the discus at QHS was 193 feet, 3 inches, set in 1977 by Pat McCulla, who went on to earn All-America honors at the University of Kentucky.
Johnson knew about McCulla's record since he started throwing in junior high school, and after his victory in Kansas, he believed he had a legitimate chance to break that record.
To do that, he thought he might need to make sacrifices. One of them meant not playing basketball for the Blue Devils.
"I had that little bug in my head telling me, 'Hey, you can do this,'" Johnson said. "I thought about it for a long time. I talked to family and others, and I had about half of them telling me I needed to play as many sports as I could, and the other half telling me I needed to do what I needed to do."
Despite knowing he could have been a vital post player for the Blue Devils this past winter, Johnson opted not to go out for the team.
"That was a super difficult decision," Johnson said. "I feel like I made the right decision."
Johnson's decision surprised many, especially Quincy track coach Matt McClelland.
"I'm kind of an old-school guy, because I think our kids should represent Quincy in all athletics," McClelland said. "I was shocked when he came up to me and told me he wasn't going to go out for basketball, because basketball has always been a part of his life."
McClelland also had reservations.
"My main concern was him getting an overuse injury from doing the same thing over and over again," McClelland said. "I was a little wary of it, but I wasn't going to push him away from it."
Not playing basketball allowed Johnson to solely focus on throwing. He hit the weight room several times a week to improve his strength. He heard the opinions of people who discouraged athletes from specializing in one sport, but he believed he could justify his choice.
"For what I do, I don't need to do all the running," Johnson said. "I need to get in a lot more lifting. That's what was going to benefit me the most."
Johnson's decision seemed to be validated during Quincy's first outdoor track meet of the spring – a triangular with Liberty and Palmyra, Mo. He won the discus event with a throw of 194-3, breaking McCulla's school record by a foot.
"I've had my mind on that school record and just thought that distance was crazy," Johnson said. "When I was in seventh grade, I was only throwing 90 feet. Last year, I thought maybe I could get close my senior year.
"When I made my decision not to go out for basketball, I said to myself, 'If I'm going to do this, I'm going for the record.' So I pursued it."
Johnson topped himself on Saturday at the Capital City Relays in Jefferson City, throwing the discus 196 feet, 3 inches.
The Illinois Throwers Association (ithrow.com) has a link on its website dedicated to chronicling the top throws in the discus and shot put in state history. It combines records compiled by DyeStat and the Illinois High School Association, and Johnson's toss on Saturday is the 11th-best recorded throw in Illinois. McCulla's throw of 193-3 is ranked 14th.
Dan Block of Roselle Lake Park holds the stat record with a throw of 208 feet, 11 inches during the Class 3A sectional at Lake Park in 2009.
Johnson was drawing interest from a few NCAA Division I schools for his throwing abilities, but more have reached out since breaking the record. He says Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Penn State, Baylor, Illinois State and Southern Illinois have all expressed interest.
McClelland says Johnson's work ethic is what lures those schools.
"Jordan's just a gamer," McClelland said. "That sounds kind of weird saying that, because discus isn't a sport where you're one-on-one with someone. But at the same time, you kind of are. You're always trying to one-up the next guy, and you always want to be the last guy throwing.
"That's what Jordan is trying to do. He wants to be that last guy throwing."
Johnson doesn't regret his decision to stop playing basketball, but he did miss playing while watching QHS play against Webster Groves during the Quincy Shootout in January.
"I spent nearly the entire day in the gym, and I had people I didn't even know coming up to me telling me they wished I was playing," Johnson said. "But now they're telling me they want to come watch me throw.
"There were a couple times I wondered what would have happened if I played basketball, but that's really it. I've gotten a long stronger, so my decision has definitely paid off."
Longest Discus Throw in Illinois High School History
Rank Distance Name School Date
1 208-11 Dan Block Roselle (Lake Park) 5/22/2009
2 206-05 A.J. Epenesa Edwardsville 4/23/2016
3 203-07 Brandon Noe Champaign (St. Thomas More) 4/23/2010
4 202-04 Marcus Popenfoose Huntley 4/30/2010
5 201-07 Brandon Lombardino Grant Community 5/9/2013
6 201-06 Alex Thompson Winnebago 5/20/2010
7 201-01 Jermaine Kline Roselle (Lake Park) 5/12/2011
8 198-04 Gary Kostrubala Chicago (Marist) 1982
9 197-06.5 Brett Einbecker Aurora (Waubonsie Valley) 5/8/2008
10 196-05 Ryan Njegovan Sandwich 4/9/2013
11 196-03 Jordan Johnson Quincy 4/15/2018
12 195-00 Caleb Fricke Petersburg PORTA 5/18/2012
13 194-08 Andrew Ellison Lebanon 4/26/2011
14 193-03 Pat McCulla Quincy (Sr.) 1977
*-courtesy of Illinois Throwers Association