MOUNT VERNON — You’re on a tennis court. It’s quiet. That’s how tennis rolls. It’s the world’s most polite spectator sport.
Of course, big points are cheered loudly, but, mostly, the atmosphere is quiet. The players are allowed to concentrate on placing the ball exactly where they want it.
Imagine you’re on the Mount Vernon prep tennis team and a discus flies into the fence or onto the court while you’re practicing.
That happened three times with Tristan Wirfs on the other end of the incoming discus.
“That happened his junior year and twice his senior year,” Mount Vernon track and field coach Ryan Whitman said. “It was kind of a ‘Holy crap’ type of moment.”
“It was that especially with the last one,” Whitman said. “He didn’t even do a full throw. It was like a half turn, the night before a meet. It wasn’t even a full throw.”
The reaction from tennis was exactly what you might think it’d be.
“Scared, obviously,” Whitman said. “You don’t want anyone getting hit by that thing.”
“Tristan couldn’t practice discus until the tennis team was finished with practice,” Whitman said. “He had to wait until 4:45 or 5 o’clock. He’d practice shot until then.”
The head track coach is basically “cat wrangler.” The coach needs to have an awareness of a sprawling array of events and times. In any given moment, a track coach can have throwers somewhere over in a field and a 3,200-meter relay team warming up on the infield and trying to figure out baton handoffs.
Wirfs had a storied track career. He was just the fourth Iowa boy to win the shot put and discus titles in consecutive years and was the first since the 1950s to win three consecutive discus titles (thankfully, no tennis players injured).
He enjoyed the fact that success was measured by a tape measure. He knew immediately where he stood after every throw.
“I liked that feedback. You can get into slumps,” Wirfs said. “I’d get into slumps and always thought if I tried harder for more power, it’ll go farther. But then it goes shorter, and it could be the smallest thing with technique.”
Wirfs’ shot put personal record is 66 feet, 3 1/4 inches, the second-best toss in Iowa prep history.
“I’ll tell you right now, he’s got records at our school that won’t be broken as long as I’m at Mount Vernon,” Whitman said.
Did Whitman ever want to hand the head coach’s clipboard over to someone and just hang out at the shot put ring?
“It was really hard,” Whitman said. “We had a great year that season. We had a lot of things that were phenomenal. What I tried to do was watch Tristan throw because it was one of the first events. I tried to watch that as much as I could before I had to go time.”
Whitman would feel a twinge of FOMO after he asked Tristan post-meet how far he threw.
“I’d be like, ‘Hey, what did you throw?’ He’d tell me and I’d be like, ‘Aw, I didn’t get to see it,’” Whitman said.
There were crowds around the rings. Track is about these kind of feats, and really about a 6-5, 300-pound major-college offensive line recruit trying to hit 70 feet in the shot put.
That doesn’t happen every day.
“Everybody kind of knew coming in that Tristan was going to win it,” Whitman said. “It was just how far was he going to throw. There were some big crowds.”
One thing Whitman could count on during a meet was this: If Wirfs had a big throw, he let out a scream that usually told Whitman exactly where he was.
“You’d hear him get pretty excited,” Whitman said. “We’d go, ‘That one’s going to be a good one. We’ll get to hear about that one.’”