Rebel thrower set district javelin record at nationals
BY TIM MORRIS
Staff Writer

Brittany Napoli didn't have a spring sport to latch on to when she entered Howell High School.

She had been a very good softball player, good enough to play on travel teams. But there was something missing.

I played softball since I was 5, she said. I was tired of it.

That left Napoli looking for a replacement.

Her father, Joe Napoli, told her to give track and field a try. Since she wasn't big on running, that led her to the throwing events, where maybe the arm she used to throw runners out with as a catcher, would come in handy.

When I got into it, I liked track and field, she said.

She took a look around the three throwing implements - the shot put, discus and javelin - and decided she wasn't big enough to through the heavy shot put and the javelin never entered the picture. She opted for the discus.

The discus is so graceful, she said. It looked amazing to throw.

Thus, began her Rebel track career as a discus thrower (although to help the team score points in dual meets, she would give the shot put and javelin a try).

Napoli's priorities began to change, though, and by the end of her sophomore year, the javelin became her event. When she began to break the event down more seriously step by step, a light switch went on and she realized it's for me.

It's so technical, she explained. In the javelin everything has to be perfect.

There was also something else about the event that starts with a fluid, controlled sprint and concludes with an all-out explosive effort that brought Napoli to the spear.

The javelin fits my personality, she said. I'm quirky and you have to let it loose.

Since becoming a javelin thrower, Napoli has been soaring. Last year, she reached 127-9 and was just off the Freehold Regional District record. This spring, she was remarkably consistent in an event known for inconsistency. She was near the top at every championship meet (including the Penn Relays) in the state, throwing in the neighborhood of 120-plus every time. At the Nike Outdoor Nationals in Greensboro, N.C., she finally got the district record she sought with a 129-0 throw that got her 13th in the nation.

I was surprised that I was so consistent, she said of her campaign. I was hoping to peak earlier at the states. All year I felt I was in a groove. I wanted it [district record] so bad. I'm pretty satisfied with the season.

The Rebel had another reason to be satisfied with her throwing, it has taken her to Knoxville, Tenn., where she received a partial athletic scholarship to the University of Tennessee. That was totally unexpected.

I never thought I'd have gotten this far, she said. I'm still in shock.

Napoli has gotten help along the way from her father, who just happened to be a pretty fair discus thrower himself. He was an All-American at Kent State in the early 1980s, winning Mid-American Conference championships in the shot put and discus all four years. He runs the World's Longest Throw Club, where he trains some of the state's best throwers, including his daughter.

At first, Napoli wasn't seeking her father's advice. Like a typical teenager, she admits that in her first couple of years, she wasn't paying particular attention to what he was saying. It was going in one ear and out the other until she put two and two together and concluded that maybe he knew what he was talking about after all.

I did give him a little trouble, and then I realized that he does know something about it, she said. He's behind me so much. He's so excited for me. He's helped me get this far.

Joe Napoli has enjoyed the ride. He said that he could tell from her athleticism in softball and field hockey, that his daughter would make a fine thrower in track and field. But he wouldn't have predicted her success.

She's made me proud, he said. It's been great watching her.

Joe and Brittany had a bittersweet moment last weekend at the Junior Olympics held at Stockton State University. She finished third, throwing 126-0. It was the final competition of the year for Brittany and the last time that her father will coach her. Next stop is Knoxville.

Joe admitted that there were some early ups and downs as he learned how to handle the father/daughter and coach/athlete mix. There is a time to be a father and time to be the coach.

We held together, he pointed out.

Joe Napoli started the World Longest Throw Club in response to his daughter.

If I'm going to help her, I might as well help as many throwers as I can, he remarked. I'm there to help them improve.

He counts among his friends javelin great Tom Petranoff and Olympic discus champion Mac Wilkins.

As excited about Brittany Napoli is to be going to the University of Tennessee, the team is equally excited about having Napoli throwing for the Volunteers. The coaching staff (head coach J.J. Clark and throwing coach John Frazier) believes that Rebel has a huge upside because she has only been throwing the javelin for three years and has reached 129-0. Clark said that Napoli shows great promise.