When USA Weightlifting announced that the annual High School Throwdown would be virtual this fall, Jim Davis was ecstatic.
Davis — New Trier High School’s strength, performance and wellness coach — said he’s always wanted the Trevians to participate in the nationwide competition. With the coronavirus pandemic affecting New Trier and high schools across the county, the High School Throwdown provided a special opportunity for the student-athletes to come together.
“It’s never just about lifting weights,” Davis said. “It’s about the camaraderie that’s built over the course of time through working hard toward a shared purpose.”
Of course, coming out on top is nice, too.
New Trier relied on the efforts of 90 student-athletes to win the High School throwdown on Nov. 5. In total, the Trevians lifted 47,920 pounds, performing bench presses, squats and power cleans to reach that number.
Don Pueblos High School in California finished second with 33,211 pounds from 89 students. Davis notes that the one extra participant from New Trier proved crucial in getting the school a victory.
“It’s given us a really cool opportunity to frame an idea that we talk about all the time, which is that every student matters,” Davis said. “It worked out in a sort of storybook way.”
The High School Throwdown is normally held in April, but it was postponed to late October because of the pandemic.
As part of the competition, students had to submit videos of all three of their lifts to USA Weightlifting, and those videos were reviewed by Team USA representatives.
Clayton Genty is a football team captain and vice president of New Trier’s powerlifting club. He said a lot went into making this all work for the Trevians. Lifting equipment was moved outside, and masks were worn at all times.
“With all the guidelines and restrictions, it was definitely a little struggle,” Genty said. “We were definitely strict. We pulled through; it turned out very well and everyone participated.”
The Trevians were led by a handful of first-place finishers: Ellie Song, New Trier’s powerlifting club president, won the girls 169-pound division; Liam Cummings was victorious in the boys 169-pound division; Max Dancey won the 199-pound division; and Luca Wojewski won the 219-pound class.
Song, a junior, said she was surprised by New Trier’s tournament win.
“I didn’t have any expectations going in, honestly,” Song said. “I’m really glad we did really well, because coming out of quarantine, it really gave us something to train for and look forward to. Everything happened a little bit quickly, but I’m kind of glad it did. I didn’t have to think about it, I just jumped in and did what I could, and it ended up really well.”
Davis said Athletic Director Augie Fontanetta, assistant AD Jim Burnside and principal Denise Dubravec were a huge help in making the competition a reality for the Trevians.
Davis also thanked his coaching staff for making things run smoothly, and acknowledged how great the kids were in following guidelines.
It may have resulted in a title, but the most important aspect for the student-athletes was simply logging off from e-learning and getting to compete with their classmates.
“Everyone being in that competitive environment, and also everyone cheering each other on, it’s been a while since I’ve experienced that, especially with all the social distancing going on,” Song said. “I thought that was exciting, I missed it a lot, so it felt good to be back.”
Most of the Trevians who participated in the weightlifting competition had their fall sports postponed due to COVID. It’s been a stressful time for all high school students; that’s why Davis said the timing of the High School Throwdown was “serendipitous” for the athletes.
“We didn’t necessarily know this was going to be our purpose this fall, we’re still hoping to work toward a shared athletic purpose,” Davis said. “Every report back we got was [the student-athletes] appreciated the social atmosphere as much as the opportunity to compete. Those things combined created a really powerful platform.”
Nick Frazier is a freelance writer primarily covering high school sports. He most recently was the sports editor of The Highland Park Landmark and The Lake Forest Leader. You can follow Nick on Twitter at @nikfraz14