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Smashing records old and new

Exonians broke multiple records during the winter season. One 59-year-old school mark still holds, but faces a serious challenger. 

April 28, 2020
Andrew Benson diving into the pool.

Andrew Benson '20 will graduate with a pool full of school and New England swimming records.

Exeter athletes spent the winter proving the adage that records are made to be broken.

Swimmer Andrew Benson ’20 was the lead record-smasher, seemingly setting marks each time he touched the water. Benson set or reset 35 pool, school and/or New England records throughout the season, including in some of the biggest competitions. The University of Wisconsin-bound senior set three New England records and captured a pair of titles against some of the top high school swimmers in the country at the Eastern States Championships.

He won both the 100-yard butterfly (47.65) and the 100 breaststroke (55.00) while also setting the 50 freestyle record (20.11). He followed up that performance with a pair of New England titles at Interschols, claiming first in the 100 butterfly and setting school, pool and meet records in the 200 freestyle (1:36.88). He also broke the New England record in the 100 freestyle (44.10) at the same meet.

Fellow co-captain Charlie Venci ’20 added a school record and a second-place finish in the 100 backstroke (49.01). On the girls’ side, Sydney Kang ’22 set school records in the 100 butterfly (55.88) and the 200 individual medley (2:03.91).

Exeter track-and-field athletes have flourished in the two-year-old William Boyce Thompson Field House, and it has shown in their performances. Will Coogan ’20 capped his phenomenal career with a trio of school records: in the 1 mile (4:11.30), 800 meters (1:53.57) and 1,000 meters (2:31.56). Matthew Wabunoha ’20 put his name at the top of the 60-meter hurdles record board (8.15), while Varun Oberai ’21 established the program record in the 3,000 meters (8:42.99). Audrey Malila ’21, Evie Houston ’21, Marymegan Wright ’21 and Ifeoma Ajufo ’22 set a new bar in the 4x200-meter relay with a time of 1:46.71, and Jackson Giampa ’23 broke a 48-year-old Exeter prep record in the long jump (21 feet, 4 inches).

Brian Muldoon

The oldest record on the books

The first time Jerry Hinkle ’61 launched a javelin in Exeter red, he set the school record. Over three seasons, Hinkle broke and reset his own record so many times that he doesn’t recall the specific throw that stands today.

That mark — 207 feet, 5 inches — appears to have come on April 29, 1961, in a lopsided win over the University of New Hampshire freshmen. Hinkle’s record has withstood six decades’ worth of challengers. It is the oldest one on Exeter’s athletic books.

Now, a new contender is emerging. David Mancini ’21, a first-year upper from Beaconsfield, Quebec, has a throw of more than 220 feet to his credit — a Canadian under-18 national mark — and has very realistic chances of writing his own name in the record book before he’s through.

“The only record I’ve broken was an 11-year-old record back home, so it didn’t have as much sentiment put toward it,” Mancini says before a training session at the William Boyce Thompson Field House. “Fifty-nine years … I don’t really know how I feel about that.”

Mancini spent the winter indoors, honing his technique with throwing coach Steve Holmes and looking ahead to an outdoor season that was ultimately canceled because of the COVID-19 crisis. He must wait until next spring to compete for Big Red, but sooner or later, Mancini will get his shot.

A quick study

Jerry Hinkle grew up in northwestern Pennsylvania. Neither the javelin nor Exeter was on his radar the day he traveled to watch a track meet of a friend who attended The Kiski School, a private boys school east of Pittsburgh. Hinkle was dazzled by the facilities there, and his friend introduced him to the headmaster. “He asked me if I’d be in need of financing, and I told him absolutely, there was no way my parents could afford private school,” Hinkle recalls. “He said, ‘Then you should apply to Exeter and Andover. If you qualify, they can help.’”

Hinkle entered PEA in the fall of 1958 on scholarship and threw himself into Exeter life, joining several clubs and serving on the Student Council Dorm Committee and as a chapel monitor. In athletics, he stood out in football and captained the basketball team, but it was the track-and-field program where Hinkle shined brightest after he met Exeter’s legendary coach Ralph Lovshin and throwing coach Dan Fowler.

“I played baseball and had quite a strong arm,” Hinkle says. “They used to say I could throw the ball through the backstop — if I could only hit the backstop.” Fowler took Hinkle’s raw power and center fielder’s mechanics and molded them into a smooth javelin approach and release.

Access to quality equipment helped polish Hinkle’s technique. The first javelin he’d used back in Pennsylvania had doubled as a towel rack. “It had a big bow in it,” he recalls. When he got to Exeter, he encountered the “Cadillac of javelins.” It took Hinkle all of one meet to erase a 23-year-old school record. His throw of 190 feet, 1 ½ inches in April of his lower year set the new standard. From there, he spent three years writing records. He set the shot-put mark, too, and partnered with classmates Peter Lamp and Gary Wilson to create a Big Red throwing trio unrivaled in New England.

“Ralph Lovshin was an amazing guy. He made it a team sport,” Hinkle says of the man who coached the track-and-field team for decades and for whom Exeter’s 400-meter oval is named. “People think of it as an individual sport, but he really emphasized the team mentality, and we pushed each other.”

Hinkle’s best throw in red came midway through his final season. Fifty-nine years later, he recalls nothing about that particular throw but fondly remembers competing with his teammates and his time at Exeter. “Wonderful. Absolutely spectacular,” he says of his three years at PEA. “To be there for those formative years was everything.”

'Throw as far as I can'

David Mancini was a self-described unathletic bench-sitter for his high school rugby team in Quebec, so he ditched the rugby bench to tryout for the track-and-field team. “I was doing long-distance [events] and jav[elin] — really two complete opposites in terms of training. But as soon as I picked up the jav, I knew it was something I wanted to do, something I could be good at,” he says. “I really just absolutely love the sport.”

He found a kindred spirit in Steve Holmes, the Big Red throwing coach. “I knew right away, after talking to coach Holmes the first couple of times, that we both had this passion for the jav,” Mancini says. “That’s what brought me here over every other school. Just having the opportunity to work with different coaches was a big draw. I’m really open to seeing what other people have to say to help my technique improve. 

“My goal is to have fun in the process, and throw as far as I can.”

Last spring and summer, shortly after he was accepted to Exeter, Mancini went on a tear. He seemed to improve on his personal best in every competition. The roll culminated in August at the Canadian national youth championships in Nova Scotia and a heave of 67.35 meters — more than 220 feet. Along with a national record, the throw earned Mancini provincial track athlete of the year recognition.

That was with a javelin that weighed 700 grams, about 1.5 pounds. At Exeter, he will compete using an 800-gram javelin, slightly more difficult to throw. Furthermore, design changes to javelins through the years that made them less aerodynamic — allowing competitions to safely remain inside track infields — has also prolonged the life spans of records such as Hinkle’s. None of that seems likely to greatly impede Mancini’s record pursuit. Not that he’s worried about it.

Records come and go, Mancini says with a shrug. “I know my record will eventually be broken, too.”

Hinkle feels the same way. “Records are made to be broken, especially when it’s been hanging around that long," says Hinkle, who held Yale’s javelin record for 11 years and continued to compete into his 50s, once finishing third at a senior national competition. “I wish [David] well. Please tell him I hope he does it.”   

Patrick Garrity

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the spring 2020 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.

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