The spring season began with an idea for John Keawe Sagapolutele.
In the midst of training for football, he tried something new. On Friday, roughly two months into the track and field season, Sagapolutele is the new shot put state champion of Hawaii. He hoisted the 12-pound sphere 51 feet and 11 inches to top the field at the Island Movers/HHSAA Track and Field State Championships on Friday at Kunuiakea Stadium.
“I just joined track for the credit. I never did track before. A lot of my friends are doing it so I wanted to see what it’s about. I’m happy I did,” he said. “All of my friends, they just went over to shot (put) and discus, and I followed them.”
At the state meet, there was no celebration, not yet. Sagapolutele might be the first quarterback in decades to win the event. He might also be the lightest. The 6-foot-3 junior lost weight in the offseason — roughly 25 pounds — and is down to 208 pounds. The 1980 shot put champion, Niko Noga of Farrington, was 6-2 and 210 pounds, according to Star-Advertiser editor and historian Jerry Campany. Noga, a defensive lineman, went on to star at Hawaii before playing in the NFL for the St. Louis/Arizona Cardinals and Detroit Lions.
Sagapolutele’s father, Tiki, and mother, Setema, came to the state meet.
“I’m just happy my parents were able to come. This is the first track meet that they’ve actually come to watch. My parents didn’t really care about track and field because football is my favorite sport,” Sagapolutele said. “But they’re surprised to hear that I was doing good so they wanted come check it out.”
Trying a new sport broke his normal routine of workouts with QB guru Keli‘i Tilton and weight training, or at least added to an already busy daily schedule. Sagapolutele has the bug now.
“My coaches remind me every day that I’ve got to still keep working on my technique and keep getting better every week,” he said.
Though quarterbacks are normally not involved with field events, Sagapolutele is comfortable in both worlds.
“There is a correlation between shot putting and quarterback. You do use a lot of your hips. When I practice my technique, my coach really emphasizes my hips and getting it through. It’s basically the same thing as a quarterback. I also do that when I’m throwing,” he said.
Back at the start of track and field season, Sagapolutele had a humble beginning.
“The first day I barely could hit 40 feet. Then I don’t know what happened. I kept practicing and using what my coaches taught me to get better each and every week,” he said.
Sagapolutele hit the 50-foot threshold during an ILH meet at Alexander Field.
“My first 50 was at Punahou. I think it was three track meets ago. I was very surprised. I never hit 50 at practice. I’m glad I surprised myself,” said.
On Friday, he reached 50 feet twice. To be sure, Sagapolutele’s 51-11 is not close to a state record. It is not even a school record. Kaione Crabb of Punahou holds the state mark of 59-08.75 set in 1997. He also has one of the top discus numbers in the state. That event is scheduled later today at the state meet.
The celebration can wait until after the meet concludes on Saturday night. Maybe a nice dinner or dessert on the way back home to Ewa Beach. Tiki Sagapolutele was a football player who also dabbled in track and field back in the day.
“I believe my dad did track. He did shot put and discus, but he said he wasn’t that good,” Sagapolutele said. “I definitely think I’ll come out next year and do some other events, too. I definitely want to try the sprints. I’ve never timed myself.”