April 15, 2014 10:46:54 AM
Mary Douglass Kerby is used to the stares.
At 5-foot-7 on a good day, Kerby would appear to be out of place when she enters the training area for the shot put. After all, the track and field event in which competitors "throw" an 8.8-pound metal ball usually is reserved for bigger athletes who can use their size to launch the orb 30-60 feet.
But Kerby isn't your typical student-athlete. Not only does the Heritage Academy love math and basketball, but she also has learned how to make up for her lack of girth to be one of the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools' best shot putters. Last week, Kerby finished first in the shot put with a throw of 34 feet, 1 inch at a meet at Madison-Ridgeland Academy. The throw was nearly two feet longer than the mark of 32-3 3/4 she uncorked to win the MAIS Class AAA state title last season.
For Kerby's efforts, she is The Dispatch's Prep Player of the Week.
"I threw the day before the MRA meet and I thought that was going to hurt me a little bit," Kerby said. "I was throwing pretty good the day before the MRA meet, and usually when that happens I don't throw well the next day. But I talked to a few people about who was going to be throwing and what they were throwing. The girl who finished second to me last year at the state meet has a personal-best mark of 33 feet, so I was a little worried, but I expected to throw in the high 33s."
Kerby's personal-best effort in the shot put is 35-7, which came earlier this season. She said her goal is to eclipse the 36-foot mark. Kerby has closed in on that mark despite not having a lot of time to practice the final sport of her high school career. She started a busy school year as a member of the school's volleyball team. She then moved to the girls basketball team before changing gears to track and field, where she also competes in the triple jump.
She said she was surprised her competitors didn't have longer throws and that she threw as far as she did at the MRA meet, even though she wasn't surprised she won. She hopes to duplicate that effort next week at Greenville Washington to qualify for the overall state meet, which will be May 2 at Jackson Academy. The top four finishers next week will advance to the state meet.
"I am just trying to stay consistent with what I am doing and definitely practice more and, maybe, get in the weight room a little bit," Kerby said. "Between basketball and track season there wasn't much time, but I went to the weight room individually and I can tell that helped."
Kerby feels confident about her chances to repeat as state champion. She said she takes motivation from the fact she usually is the smallest athlete competing in the shot put.
"Everybody kinds of laughs at me and says, 'Oh, she is throwing shot put?' " Kerby said. "I feel like I have gained confidence throughout the years because I wasn't expected to do well and I just have taught myself to do it. I mean, we don't even have a track. If I can come out here and do this, anybody should be able to come out and do it, so I am going to do it."
In addition to keeping busy with sports, Kerby has excelled off the field. She will be recognized as the school's Outstanding Senior on May 5 at the annual sports banquet. The award recognizes overall achievement by a senior. Kerby also has been accepted into Mississippi State's pre-veterinary early entry program and has secured a place in the Shackouls Honors College. Her accomplishments in the classroom and in sports helped her be selected as the school's female representative for the Wendy's High School Heisman. Austin Fitch was the school's male honoree. In February, Kerby was one of 20 finalists for the state's Wendy's Heisman award, which is presented to high-achieving seniors who participate in a wide range of sports and school and community activities.
"It is a great award to recognize people who have had their foot in a little bit of everything," Kerby said. "It is not easy. ... It was pretty neat to see the 20 finalists and that they were excelling in everything and that it was rare. Most people can't say they have done all of that. It was a great experience to see people who were like me and to see how it can be done."
Kerby said she always has wanted to be a veterinarian and recognized it was time for her to choose academics over athletics. After gaining acceptance to MSU's Honors College, Kerby knows she will have to focus on her studies and find time to stay active in intramurals. The MSU web site says typical Honors College freshmen achieved approximately a 30 ACT composite score and a 3.8 high school grade-point average.
Still, Kerby admits to having had thoughts about trying to play sports in college. Those thoughts will have to wait, though. Of all of her accomplishments, Kerby first mentions her state title in the shot put. For someone who has taught herself how to compete with the state's best -- and who does it by overcoming a size disadvantage -- Kerby is primed to surpass the state championship mark she earned last year on a cold, rainy day. She will do it by ignoring the stares and proving once again she belongs in the shot put circle.
"Track has kind of been a personal growing experience because I feel it is a character-building sport no matter what event you are in," Kerby said. "(Track and field) has made me who I am today. (The shot put) is all about building confidence. When I went into ninth grade and coming up in 10th grade and playing varsity basketball, confidence was a big factor. I had to build it myself. I feel like shot put helps a lot with that. (Track and field) is a very nerve-wracking sport because it is all on you. ... But you just lay it all on the line and give it all you have got.
"(Competing in the shot put) is kind of scary sometimes, but it is an eye-opener. It makes you realize it isn't about what you look like or how tall you are or that you can do anything. I usually am pretty short on the basketball court, too, when we play the big Jackson schools, but it is not the size of the dog in the fight, it is the size of the fight in the dog."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.