It would be simple to credit genes for Knight’s throwing success. His mother and his aunt, Johanna Berscheid, were both state champions in the shot put and the discus in the mid-1990s at Battle Ground High School. His cousin, Jon Lawson, was a state champion thrower five years ago at Prairie High School. And John Gambill was a standout college basketball player and track athlete at New Mexico State who has held national age-group throwing records.
That bloodline helps explain how at 14 Knight stands 6-foot-1 and is pushing 200 pounds. But, his grandfather-coach insists, it doesn’t explain how he is putting the shot 25 feet farther than his competitors. After all, his size-15 shoes add to the challenge of getting the footwork perfected to spin through the shot put ring without fouling.
“He’s tough,” explains Gambill. “You don’t become a leader in the nation without being mentally tough and you’ve got to have that will to compete.”
And to work. In addition to throwing sessions two days a week, Knight does weight training year-round to build strength.
It appeared that work paid off at the state-level Junior Olympics meet in late June. Knight’s winning shot put that day was farther than the national record, but a series of problems at the Southwest Recreation Center in Seattle field meant the shot put couldn’t be certified.
“He handled (the disappointment) like a champion,” said Berscheid, who coaches throwers for the Evergreen Storm. “I was irate with (meet organizers), infuriated.”
With only the regionals and nationals left in his 14-year-old season, Knight’s coaches feared that his place in the record book might be lost. Given everything that must be executed to produce a really big throw, Gambill knew there was no guarantee Trey would produce a national record again this summer.
Knight said he was a little mad, but not all that bothered by the situation.
“I think my parents were more upset than I was,” Trey said.
Meet organizers were ready two weeks later when Knight and his Evergreen Storm teammates returned to the Southwest Recreation Center for the regional championships. Knight easily won the discus and shot put titles. But he did not have a record as he stepped into the shot put ring for his final throw.
When he let the shot go “it felt like a really good one. I just hoped I didn’t scratch” by stepping outside the ring, Knight said.
Some 25 yards away, Trey’s coaches and family watched from behind a fence. Heather was recording the throw with her phone. When the shot bounced into her right knee, leaving a bruise, Heather figured the mark was a record.
“It hurt, but I’ll take it,” said a smiling Heather.
As an accomplished thrower herself, Heather Knight appreciates the challenges of throwing well in big meets. But she leaves the coaching to her father.
“He is Trey’s coach. That’s a relationship that they have and I value that,” Heather said. “And Trey’s been doing it long enough now that he knows what he needs to do, He doesn’t need my advice.”
Trey Knight wasn’t forced into throwing. He found his way to the sport while following his grandfather and his aunt to masters track and field meets. He was 10 when Gambill and Heather asked if throwing was something Trey wanted to try.
He did, and according to Berscheid it was quickly evident that her nephew could be successful. Part of that was the ability to take criticism from his grandfather-coach. Gambill admits he is a detail-oriented and demanding taskmaster.
But the grandfather’s pride shines through. Gambill noted that Trey’s hammer mark — he threw the 12-pound hammer 182 feet, 2 inches at a June meet — would win the national title in the 15-16 age group, the youngest allowed to throw the hammer at Junior Olympic events.
Trey Knight’s friendly, soft-spoken demeanor belies a strong competitive spirit, according to his mother. At practices and meets, he will encourage teammates and competitors to do their best. He said spending time with fellow throwers makes meets fun even though none of them can challenge his marks.
“Kids always ask: Are you human?” he said.
The human instinct to compete is strong in Knight though his laid-back demeanor might hide it.
“He doesn’t like to lose,” Heather said, noting that finishing second at the 2014 USATF Junior Olympics was difficult for her son. Dylan Carter, a nationals regular from Maryville, Tenn., won that day.
“He hated that. He didn’t like it at all,” she recalled, noting that Trey is hoping to see Carter again in Sacramento.
No matter how far he throws at Sacramento, Knight faces a heavier workload soon. After the national meet, his grandfather plans to begin training Knight with the heavier shot and discus implements he will throw next spring at high school meets.