The number of hours spent practicing for an event that is over in mere seconds is what separates the average student-athlete from those who become champions. For Justin Shirk, the journey began in Harrisburg, where he first played football at age 5, and led to Colorado where he became Bloomsburg University’s first NCAA champion in track and field when he won the javelin title in May.
Shirk first tried track and field as an eighth-grader as a way to keep busy in the spring. He quickly learned running wasn’t for him … but throwing a javelin was a different story. The football quarterback had what coaches describe only as “it.” He could throw the javelin like no one that age had done before and set the national record for freshmen, a record that still stands.
Although he had great success with the javelin, Shirk’s first love was football, playing for BU graduate Glen McNamee ’97 at Central Dauphin High School, near Harrisburg. He was looking forward to playing college football and his coach’s alma mater would be the place.
Then, at a meet in the spring of his senior year, Shirk let go a javelin throw that would dramatically change his life. He set the national high school record, and the scholarship offers for track started coming in.
“After originally signing with BU, I made a call to Coach Danny Hale that was hard for me to make,” says Shirk. “I asked to be let out of my commitment so I could go to the University of Oklahoma on a track scholarship. Fortunately, he was very encouraging and wished me all the best.”
At Oklahoma, Shirk faced stiff competition in the javelin and missed the football field so much that he didn’t go to any Sooner games. Both his throwing and his grades were coming up short. It was time to rethink everything.
“My motivation level was very low,” Shirk says. “I was not putting in the time needed to get better and was not getting it done in the classroom. After talking with my parents, we decided it was time to come home.
“My first call was to Coach Hale. I asked if there was a way I could do both football and track, and he said he would work it out with track Coach Bernie Empie.”
At Bloomsburg, Shirk returned to the football field and was named second team All-PSAC East as a linebacker. Following football season, he turned his attention to the javelin. And on one of his free weekends from spring football practice, he qualified for the NCAA Championships.
After finishing fourth at the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference championships, Shirk went to Colorado, site of the NCAA championships, and unleashed a 235-foot, 11-inch throw that put him in the Huskies’ record book as the first national champion in track and field.
“Here at Bloomsburg I have more opportunities to achieve great things,” says Shirk. “You live and learn, and this is one time that I learned that Bloomsburg is the best environment for me. I couldn’t be happier.” •
Tom Mcguire, Sports Information Director