The Shelton Invitational is one of the state’s longest running track and field meets – spanning nearly six decades and constantly drawing top talent from all over the state. It’s also unique in that it groups freshmen together in their own pool, allowing them to avoid older athletes and compete against their own class as their high school track careers are in their infancy.
Sometimes, however, on very rare occasions, a ninth grader is so impressive that they are bumped up and extended an offer to participate against the veterans.
On even fewer occurrences, a freshman triumphs.
Two years ago, as a freshman at Gig Harbor High School, Hadassah Ward was one of those rare cases at the Shelton Invitational when the newcomer was asked to join upperclassmen. Among the 15 competitors, there were 12 seniors, two juniors, no sophomores and Ward – the lone freshman in the group. Surrounded by some of the state’s best throwers, one would think someone a mere month into their high school track tenure would at least be nervous, if not completely intimated.
“It was definitely a weird experience seeing there were juniors and seniors and I was the only freshman,” Ward said, “but it felt more of where I belonged.”
Ward proceeded to win the event by nearly two feet. She didn’t just belong – she dominated. And she hasn’t slowed down since.
“It is rare to see a freshman have the type of success she had,” said Ben Keith, who coaches the Tides’ throwers, “but she works hard and is really talented. She’s a very gifted athlete. She would be great at any sport she decided to do. We’re very fortunate she decided to go with track.”
Now a junior, Ward is seeking to become only the second Gig Harbor thrower to win back-to-back state shot put titles, and the first since Becky Potter accomplished the feat in 1996.
Ward captured the 4A state crown last year with a personal record throw of 44 feet, 2 inches to defeat defending champion Ginny Mehl of Tahoma (42-9). The championship served as a bit of redemption for the ultra-competitive Ward, who finished second to Mehl as a freshman. Taking home second place was a tough pill to swallow as the two actually posted identical top throws (42-5 1/2) during the 2015 state meet, but Mehl secured the title due to a better second throw, which served as the event’s tiebreaker.
“Losing my freshman year was tough,” Ward said. “I definitely came into last year focused on winning state because of that. I just tried to list to my coach on what I needed to work on and improve every time I throw.”
With the Tides moving down a classification, Ward will not have the opportunity to defend her 4A championship, but instead is eyeing the 3A title.
Last year’s 3A titlist, Samantha Boudreau of Bonney Lake, has since graduated, but runner-up Kara Shibley of Hanford returns for her senior year, along with two other throwers who placed in the top seven, which should provide Ward some opposition.
“I’m always better when I’m throwing against girls who throw farther,” said Ward, who has drawn the interest of several colleges including Oregon State and University of Washington. “It pushes me.”
However, as Ward’s ceiling continues to rise, the gap between her and other throwers is becoming wider. Her state-winning throw last year would have won the 3A title by an even larger margin than what she did in the 4A ranks, and her top mark this year of 43-1 is the best throw in the state in the 3A ranks by more than four feet.
Interestingly, all this success comes only a few years removed from when Ward didn’t even know the shot put existed.
“I didn’t even know it was an event until I reached middle school. My sister did it, so I thought I might as well give it a try,” said Ward, who was also a member of the Tides’ volleyball team, which placed fifth at the 3A tournament this year. “It just felt natural.”
In addition to claiming a second consecutive state title, Ward stated the goal this season is to hit 45 feet.
She won the shot put at the 57th annual Shelton Invitational by more than 5 feet with a throw of 42-2 1/2 – her third best distance during her junior campaign. Her season high is currently 43-1 – a distance she hit against Peninsula.
“Right now, she’s dealing with some technical stuff that we just have to work through,” Keith said, “but when it comes down to the end of the year when the important meets are on I have good confidence in her. I feel she’s the best thrower, and she should do just fine as long as she does her part.”