It’s one of the great mysteries on the North Coast.

How do the local high school track teams produce so many great throwers? As in discus tossers, shot putters and javelin throwers.

Year after year, athletes from Astoria, Seaside, Warrenton and Knappa win district and state championships, setting records and moving on to the college level.

Of course, Astoria has throws coach Bob Ellsberg, who turns out great athletes by the numbers. And Seaside has that whole strength and conditioning thing, with the husband-wife coaching team of Dan and Margie Leary.

Some of the great local throwers from the recent past include Astoria’s Laura Bobek, Emmi Collier of Warrenton, Knappa’s John Benthin and anybody named McCord from Seaside.

The list includes multiple state champions, record holders and college stars.

More names were added this past weekend, as the county set a personal best with five different athletes from two different schools, winning a combined nine championships in two district meets. All in throwing events.

And the stars of today — Seaside’s Gretchen Hoekstre and Warrenton’s Mark Warren — will no doubt be the college stars of tomorrow.

Warren is only a junior and has countless records to break and medals to win at the high school level.

But it’s Hoekstre who fans will have their eyes on this week in the 4A portion of the state meet, Friday and Saturday at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham.

The Seaside senior already has records, titles and a very impressive list of accomplishments at the high school level, and her Division I college destination is already set.

She’s the No. 1 high school female shot putter in the nation (we haven’t had many of those), and she hopes to finish up her prep career this weekend with a couple more state titles.

For those who know her, it couldn’t happen to a better person or a harder worker.

“She’s doing great. She looks like she’s ready to go in and do great at the NCAA level,” said local legend Bobek. “I’m real proud of her and glad I got to meet her.”

It’s fair to say that Bobek knows what she’s talking about.

Astoria’s record-setting thrower from 2006 to 2009 is a six-time state champion, winning the discus and shot put titles as a sophomore, junior and senior. She placed second in both events as a freshman in 2006.

Bobek ended up at that track mecca in Eugene, the University of Oregon, where she finished her career with a school record in the discus on her final throw in the 2014 NCAA championships at Hayward Field.

In addition to big points for the Ducks, it resulted in All-American status for Bobek.

And now Hoekstre is about to bring one chapter of her career to a close, with just as much promise as Bobek had 10 years ago. Or more. Not even Bobek had a 50-foot shot put in high school, like the one Hoekstre uncorked May 3 in the Nike/Jesuit Relays.

Hoekstre considers Bobek a hero, and met the former Astoria athlete at this year’s Daily Astorian Invitational — where Hoekstre broke Bobek’s meet record in the shot.

(Said Bobek, “It had to happen sometime, right?”)

Hoekstre says, “(Bobek) has like, all the records. She’s so good and so much fun to watch. It was really cool to have her there. And even she was super-excited with my throw, even though I think I broke her record.”

Hoekstre also wanted to be a Duck. Financial concerns just didn’t allow it to happen.

“It is ‘TrackTown USA,’” she said of Eugene. “But I just couldn’t get the money to pay for it. The U of O is a pretty expensive school to begin with, and it would have been great to go to a school like that and throw. But I just couldn’t afford it.”

Instead, Hoekstre signed a letter-of-intent to attend Brigham Young University.

Do the Ducks know what they’re missing? Does BYU know what they’re getting? Hoekstre’s signing took place before she became the top shot putter in the nation.

It’s OK, said Hoekstre.

“Things like that happen. I am religious, and I realize that (BYU) is where God wants me to be.

“I looked at Utah State a little, but there was something about BYU,” she said. “The atmosphere, the (throws) coach (Niklas Arrhenius). He’s a two-time Olympian from Sweden, and he just has this persona about him that I love. That’s the kind of coach I want to have. That’s why I chose BYU.”

She adds, “I’m just super-excited to see what the future holds. I’ve always played basketball, and up until my sophomore year, I figured I would play softball in college, like ‘this is what I’m going to do!’ But I had a falling out with the coach that year, and so I decided I would do something else. I tried track, and fell in love with the sport.”

Hoekstre’s private coach is Lex Strom.

“We started working together right at the end of last season, and I wouldn’t be where I am without him,” she said.

Back to the present, Hoekstre no doubt will be looking to not only win state titles this weekend in the discus and shot put, but set some new personal bests.

And Hoekstre has a way of meeting and exceeding her goals. She’s been doing it her whole career.

“At the beginning of the season I told my coach my goal is to throw 47 feet” in the shot put, she said. “And my coach said, ‘that’s a pretty big goal. We’ll see if we can get you there.’

“And obviously, we’re there. That’s happened every year so far. I set a goal that I think is pretty big, and I end up getting it pretty early in the season.

“My sophomore year was to break the school record, which was 39-4. And four meets in, my fourth meet ever, I threw 40 feet. The next year was, ‘I want to hit 42.’ And I hit 43 in Banks. It’s been really cool to see that hard work does pay off. Because sometimes you don’t see it. It’s been nice to see those numbers grow.”

Just for reference, the girls 4A Oregon state meet record is 48-7, a mark held by Christy Ward of North Valley since 1988. The discus state meet record was set by (guess who?) Bobek, at 152-10. Hoekstre’s current best is 154-2.

Certainly doable for Hoekstre, who wants national records.

The National Federation High School record for the shot put is currently 54-10¾, set by Michelle Carter of Austin, Texas in 2003.

“All these girls from Georgia, California, Texas and Kentucky, those girls are throwing huge numbers, and then someone asked, ‘why can’t you? Why not you?’

“And I said, ‘I don’t know.’ That’s where I’m at,” Hoekstre said. “My goal is to be the best, and to prove to everyone else that some girl from a small town in Oregon can do it.”

Gary Henley is a sports reporter for The Astorian. Contact him at 503-861-8493 or

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