On Tuesday night there was a gathering in the backyard of Ralph and Anne Fruguglietti.
As each person invited to the dinner walked through the sliding glass door and stepped foot on the patio, there was a reaction of excitement and pride as they saw sign hanging off the gazebo reading, “Throw Town U.S.A.”
Fruguglietti said it was an idea he came up with a few weeks ago. And as the two dozen or so guest walked in, there was a reminder that Kern County has been the top region for throwers in California and that get together prooved it as the likes of Rachel Varner, Jeff Buckey, Dawn Dumble-Godbehere, Alan Collatz, Scott Semar and Paul Bender walked through the door.
The term is a play on the term Eugene, Oregon uses as “Track Town U.S.A.,” said Fruguglietti, who was a great in the discus at Albany High in the East Bay in the 1970s before throwing at USC. Frugulietti wanted to add to his continued support of the sport in a region that has become the best in California for throwers.
The proof is there.
Since 1974, which happens to be the first year the state recognized women’s events at the CIF State Track and Field Championships, no other county in the state has produced more state titles in shot put and discus in both genders.
A total of 30 titles in the two events have come home to Kern, three more than Orange County in that time span, which has six times as many residents. In total, Kern County has 35 state titles in the two events.
On Tuesday, there was a collection of 11 of those state titles on hand, including Liberty senior Daniel Viveros, who will seek to become just the 12th multiple state champion in boys shot put this weekend at the 101st CIF State Championships at Veteran’s Memorial Stadium in Clovis beginning Friday at 4 p.m. The last to win consecutive state boys shot put titles was Frontier’s Matt Darr in 2009-10.
Everyone on hand at the gathering Tuesday spoke highly of Viveros, who on May 8, became just the fourth in state history to eclipse the 70-foot barrier in the boys shot put with a personal-best 71 feet, 3 inches. Van Mounts, who won two shot put titles at Bakersfield High in 1997-98, never accomplished that feat at a high school event. Mounts’ section record of 71-10 came in national competition.
Semar is widely considered the patriarch of the throwing community in the county. While he sat by the fire in the backyard on Tuesday, Semar took great pride in reviewing some of Viveros’ latest marks on his iPad.
“He’s great. What can you say?” Semar said of Viveros. “He’s one of the best ever for California in high school. He’s more consistent than Van Mounts.”
More consistent than the greatest in boys shot put in Central Section history? The proof is evident.
Viveros has not lost a shot put event since his sophomore year in the state finals when he took third.
Since, Viveros has won 31 consecutive high school events and has set six new personal-best marks this season, a remarkable feat in an event that doesn’t necessarily translate to constant improvement.
“Obviously he rates as one of the all-time greats in state history,” Collatz said. “And he’s so consistent. It’s hard to throw far all the time with that amount of consistency. That’s what I admire the most about him. He’s a great competitor.”
Buckey won two discus titles at BHS in 1991-92 before embarking on an NFL career. Buckey has watched Viveros closely over the last two years. His son, Zach, who is a sophomore thrower at Garces, competes against Viveros and Buckey has taken notice that it’s more than just strength, but technique that makes Viveros, who will throw at Ole Miss, so successful.
“Anytime you throw 70 feet, to a thrower, that’s a mark everyone strives for,” Buckey said. “He’s so technically sound. When he gets to college, he’s only going to get better.”
Like Buckey, Dumble-Godbehere was a multiple state champion, winning three titles from 1987-89. Also, like Buckey, Dumble-Godbehere has watched closely as a coach and parent of a thrower at Shafter.
Dumble-Godbehere was thrilled to see the amount of talent in attendance on Tuesday that also included Rachel Varner (two state titles for BHS in 2001-02), Paul Bender (1980 discus state champ at Shafter) and Alex Collatz (won 2011 discus girls title for Stockdale).
Along with Viveros was his older sister Alicia, who was a state medalist and just completed her sophomore season at Mississippi State. Viveros’ teammate, Faith Bender (Paul’s daughter) is a favorite to medal in both throws this weekend on the girls side and was also at the barbecue. So were the two other state qualifiers in Shafter senior Thomas Richardson (shot put) and Bella Rigby. Like Bender, Rigby is one of the top sophomores in the nation in the discus on the girls side.
With three generations of some of the greatest coaches and athletes in state history all together just days before two more could add to that lore of Kern, it was a special moment to behold.
“This is a coming together of greatness,” Dumble-Godbehere said. “You can feel the respect we all have for each other. That’s what I love seeing about this new generation is the work they are putting in the weight room. You could see Faith and Daniel were going to be good at the youth level.
“You don’t get a collection like this very often. It comes in waves. This is special.”