He's qualified because: Placed first and second in the discus and shot put at the CIF State Track and Field Championships. And his 208-foot, 10-inch discus throw was the best throw in the nation.
He said it: "He never complains about anything. If I call him on a Saturday or during Easter break to have a throw session, he always responded. He busted his butt in the weight room, on the field and helped other kids. He's a very solid young man with a great work ethic." – Clovis East assistant coach Tran Sanders
Long ago, Tran Sanders saw the same thing in Willy Irwin that professional baseball scouts like to see in pitchers: "He had a live arm – super fast."
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And, while Irwin did pitch a bit, it was not on the baseball diamond that Sanders made the observation.
It was in an elementary-school shot put ring.
"Even as a young kid, he had a real quick snap throw," Sanders says. "I always kind of knew he would do something."
Sanders continued to coach Irwin through his high school career and, at the end of the day, he did indeed "do something" for Clovis East High.
A year after placing second and fourth in the discus and shot put in the CIF State Track and Field Championships at Buchanan's Veterans Memorial Stadium, Irwin returned to the same site earlier this month as a senior and placed first and second while repeating as The Bee's boys Athlete of the Year in the sport.
Further, his 208-foot, 10-inch missile in the preliminaries finished as the No. 1 mark in the nation and No. 2 all time in the Central Section.
The 6-foot-2, 225-pounder won the finals at 207-8, and took the shot put silver at 63-2 1/2.
In last year's state discus finals, Irwin placed second to Frontier's Matt Darr.
This time, Darr finished fifth (182-7) in a section-dominated event that also had El Diamante's Brice Sandri place second (190-0) and Fowler's Jacob Budwig third (186-0).
"My goal from the beginning of the year," Irwin says, "was to win state and beat [Darr]. And I knew it would take a 200-foot throw to beat him."
Remarkably, with a Central Section Grand Masters winning throw of 199-9 on May 22 and then the 208-10 effort in the state-meet preliminary round, Irwin improved his personal best by 20 feet in two weeks.
Sanders points to the fact that The Bee's second-team All-Star defensive end played in the boiler for two years for the Timberwolves' perennial powerful football team: "He's used to playing football in front of a lot of people. It doesn't affect him to throw in front of people and under a lot of pressure."
Sanders also points to what he feels was good fortune.
Two days following the section finals, Irwin strained the triceps muscle on his right throwing arm in practice.
Consequently, he then took a week off.
"I've got to tell you," Sanders says, "I think it actually helped him and gave his body a chance to heal. I'd like to take credit, but I just think it was dumb luck."