VILLA GROVE — Ryan Pearce didn’t have to look far for role models. They were in his backyard.
The youngest of three brothers, he surpassed the records established by his siblings on the state level in the shot put and discus.
Michael Pearce, who graduated in 2009, was a state placer in the shot put.
Tyler Pearce, who graduated in 2011, was a state placer in the discus.
Ryan Pearce, who graduated last month, was a three-year state medalist in both events. As a senior, he was a two-event Class 1A state champion, which clinched Athlete of the Year accolades for him in boys’ track and field.
“My two older brothers did their best to do better than each other,” Ryan Pearce said. “I looked at their marks, what they did and how they did it and followed in their footsteps.”
As his brothers set school records — which he has since surpassed — Ryan Pearce looked to his siblings for guidance.
“They taught me technique and the right way to throw it,” Ryan Pearce said. “Things I didn’t do right, they fixed.”
He wasn’t reluctant to heed their advice.
“I’m a pretty good listener,” he said. “I like to get tips, what I can do better and how to fix things.”
His brothers were such good instructors that Ryan Pearce shattered their school records.
“I bet they’re upset their marks didn’t stand,” he said.
He not only had the live-in coaches in his house, Ryan Pearce had the facilities, too.
The summer before he started high school, he helped his father and brothers create an area on their 5-acre rural property to throw the discus and shot put.
“My dad and I did most of the work, but the whole family was helping to do it,” Ryan Pearce said. “We did just about everything but pour the concrete.”
His school-record tosses are 60 feet, 3 inches in the shot put and 169-11 in the discus. If someone comes along at Villa Grove who is better, he will have a supporter in the current record-holder.
“If they get taken, congratulations to the kid that took ’em,” Ryan Pearce said.
Pearce’s success story began before he reached high school.
As a seventh-grader, he was the reason Villa Grove was crowned the IESA team state champion. His individual victories in the 200 meters, shot put and discus accounted for all of the school’s 30 points.
As an eighth-grader, he was the reason Villa Grove took home the IESA state runner-up trophy. His individual victories in the 200 meters, shot put and discus accounted for all of the school’s 30 points.
Despite such an impressive resume, he entered high school with plenty of motivation. He wasn’t even the best thrower in the family as a ninth-grader.
“My first two years, I had Tyler with me,” Ryan Pearce said. “I was always striving to do better. Sometimes it worked out. Sometimes he beat me.”
During Ryan Pearce’s final two years, he took his motivation from different sources.
“I was looking for PRs, improving from where I was,” he said. “I wanted to do better than myself.”
He made use of his backyard practice area.
“It helped me a lot,” he said. “I’d go out here and concentrate on little things. It was great having a throwing area in my backyard. It allowed me to throw whenever I felt up to it.”
The family tradition he carried on was started by his oldest brother, Michael.
“Neither my dad nor my mom were ever throwers,” Ryan Pearce said. “I got started on throwing because my older brothers both did it.”
The competition he missed out on in practice often came in meets, especially those when Salt Fork was on the competition list.
The Class 1A discus state runner-up this season was Salt Fork senior Alec Dutton.
“We went back and forth,” Pearce said. “I won a couple times. He won a couple of times. We’ve been buddies since seventh grade, and I knew he’d either be right in front or right behind me all year.
“It was nice, like when I had my older brother there pushing me.”
While Dutton provided competition in the discus, Pearce ran the table in the shot put, winning every meet he entered as a senior.
An All-Area first-teamer in football, Pearce always has had a penchant for the gridiron.
“I like football,” he said. “There are so many more guys to compete against.”
One look at Ryan Pearce is all it takes to realize he is different than most — successful — discus and shot put throwers.
The 6-footer weighs in at about 200 pounds and doesn’t look like the proverbial gladiator-in-training.
“I think the only advantage I might have over the bigger throwers is that I am a lot quicker through the ring,” Ryan Pearce said, “but also people think me being 50 pounds lighter than other guys is a disadvantage.”
He proved repeatedly size isn’t as important as technique.
“Ryan is the kid who puts in more work than any other kid and is the definition of good sportsmanship and leadership,” Villa Grove track coach Nick Curry said. “I wish I could fill my roster full of kids like him. He can do any sport and be one of the top athletes every time.
“His dedication to effort and technique is exceptional. My first year coaching him was his sophomore year, and he threw 54 feet in shot. The following year, he set a goal of throwing 57 feet and threw that in state. As a senior, he wanted to hit 60 feet. He threw that at the Honor Roll meet and several other meets, including state. Ryan was the kid toward the end of the season who always turned it up one more notch than his competitors.”
Herb Wilkins has coached the Salt Fork throwers for 15 years and helps with the Illini Heat, a summer track club that included Pearce.
“This guy is the ultimate competitor,” Wilkins said. “If he wasn’t a thrower, he could have been the same degree as a center fielder in baseball.
“His competitive nature is unbelievable. We’d be done (at Illini Heat practices), and he’d still be throwing.”
The best part, Wilkins said, is Pearce’s personality.
“He’s a well-spoken gentleman-type kid with unbelievable character,” Wilkins said.
Pearce qualifies as one of the area’s top comeback stories, which is unusual for someone who stood atop the podium as a junior in one event.
He suffered a serious football injury in the seventh game, a torn posterior cruciate ligament.
It didn’t require surgery, just “rest and rehab,” Pearce said.
Track season started before he felt 100 percent.
“I wasn’t too comfortable at the beginning of track,” he said, “but I did what needed to be done to get back. There was no thought in my mind that it would slow me down.”
That was true for his throwing events, but rather than risk a reinjury, he sacrificed most of the running he’d done in previous years. One of the area’s top sprinters as an underclassman, Pearce focused on the shot put and discus throughout this spring because he didn’t need “the same explosiveness” that he did in running to get out of the starting blocks.
His focus this summer is to get stronger and be ready for Day 1 of football practice at McKendree College, where he hopes to be in contention for playing time at either cornerback or safety.
As a youngster, Pearce played baseball. He occasionally wonders how his life would have been different had he chosen to focus on throwing a baseball.
“I got more into track and dropped (baseball),” he said. “It would be neat to find out where I’d stand, but I’m not saying I’d take it back.
“I was good at track, and if you’re good at something you won’t stop doing it.”
That’s why Pearce is hoping to be a two-sport athlete in college and continue his throwing. If so, it could mean a reprieve for his home facilities.
“I’m not sure what’s going to happen to it,” he said. “Since I will be doing track in college as well we might keep it, so when I come home I will be able to throw here.”
Just another reason to support the age-old adage: There’s no place like home.
Boys’ Track and Field Athletes of the Year
YEAR NAME SCHOOL
2013 Ryan Pearce Villa Grove
2012 Steve Schroeder Monticello
2011 Brandon Carrel Urbana
2010 Brandon Noe St. Thomas More
2009 Ian Wells Champaign Central
2008 Tyler Carter Tuscola
2007 Aaron Mathis Urbana
2006 Scott Phelps Monticello
2005 Scott Phelps Monticello
Coaches of the Year
YEAR COACH SCHOOL
2013 Nic Haab St. Joseph-Ogden
2012 Jeff Butler Monticello
Getting to know: Ryan Pearce
Season highlights: McKendree College football and track recruit was a two-event Class 1A state champion, winning the shot put (60 feet, 01/4 inch, fourth best on the all-time area Honor Roll) and the discus (162-1). He finished with a school-record six medals from state track meets and was a two-time IHSA titlist in the discus. His best discus toss of the season (169-11) is also a Villa Grove school record.
A few of my favorite things: Peyton Manning ... Will Smith ... Anatomy ... ”Iron Man 3” ... Walmart ... Five Guys Burgers and Fries ... A new 2014 Silverado ... First job was detasseling ... Pet peeve is people chomping their gum ... Always texting Shane Frick ... Would like to visit Hawaii ... Will major in athletic training in college.
Three things on my bucket list: Go skydiving, travel to every state and explore other countries
About Ryan Pearce: “After three years of coaching him, I never had to worry about him peaking too soon, and I always knew he would continue to stay calm, watch film and trust his technique. Throughout coaching Ryan, he has been an inspiration to the younger kids of Villa Grove. Ryan wanted to win both shot and discus this year. After taking the lead in shot put at state this year with a 58-foot throw, you could tell he wasn’t happy with the way he threw, so we went to practice Friday and he threw until we figured it out, and he threw 60 feet in the finals.” — Villa Grove head coach Nick Curry
All-Area Honorable Mention
NAME SCHOOL YR.
Adam Auten Monticello Sr.
Wyatt Avenatti Georgetown-Ridge Farm/C. Jr.
Cashmere Blissit Champaign Central Sr.
Ian Briscoe Prairie Central Sr.
Cord Buchanan Clinton Sr.
Keenen Butler Georgetown-Ridge Farm/C. Sr.
Dakota Cabbage Prairie Central Sr.
Kevin Carroll St. Thomas More Sr.
Matt Chupp Mahomet-Seymour Sr.
Cord Church Rantoul Sr.
Braydon Crozier St. Joseph-Ogden Jr.
Jon Davis Oakwood/A-P Fr.
Daulton DePatis Watseka-Milford Sr.
Justin Deters Unity Jr.
Alec Dutton Salt Fork Sr.
Jordan Feagin Arthur-Lovington/Atwood-H. Jr.
Zach Fienhold Prairie Central Sr.
Davion Foster Champaign Central Fr.
Dakota Gash Danville Jr.
Vaughn Gentzler Paxton-Buckley-Loda Jr.
George Gunter Urbana Uni High Jr.
Jesse Hahne Schlarman Sr.
Nick Hedges Salt Fork Jr.
Jacob Helfrich St. Thomas More Sr.
Nick Hess St. Thomas More Jr.
Sam Hohlfelder Mahomet-Seymour Jr.
DeVon Hood Champaign Central Sr.
Caleb Hummer Danville So.
Ashton Hyatt Champaign Central Fr.
Reno Jamison Paxton-Buckley-Loda Sr.
Cole Johnson St. Joseph-Ogden Sr.
Micah Johnson Unity Sr.
Isaac Kasten Champaign Central So.
Sean Kelley St. Thomas More Sr.
Austin Kidwell Watseka/Milford Jr.
Taylor Kirby Salt Fork Jr.
Drew Knipfer St. Joseph-Ogden Sr.
Matt Knipfer St. Joseph-Ogden Fr.
Devon Laubscher Cissna Park So.
Johnny Leverenz Danville Jr.
Aaron Luesse Unity Sr.
Nick Meunier Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley Fr.
Clayton Nigg St. Joseph-Ogden Jr.
Tyler Owen Georgetown-Ridge Farm/C. Fr.
Jonah Peoples Centennial Sr.
Nick Poff St. Joseph-Ogden So.
Eric Ponder Tuscola So.
Sam Powers St. Thomas More Jr.
David Ricks Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley Jr.
Quinton Risley Arcola Sr.
Jordan Rock Mahomet-Seymour Sr.
Jake Rogers Watseka/Milford So.
Andrew Roney Mahomet-Seymour Sr.
Drake Royal Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley Jr.
Tyler Rubarts Paxton-Buckley-Loda Jr.
Eric Rydell St. Joseph-Ogden Sr.
Alex Ryherd Sullivan/Okaw Valley So.
Drew Sahni Mahomet-Seymour Jr.
Jonathan Schaap Mahomet-Seymour Sr.
Tyler Schuring Arthur-Lovington/Atwood-H. So.
Andrew Shroyer Mahomet-Seymour Sr.
Skyler Sieving Prairie Central Sr.
Clayton Strader Arcola Fr.
Allen Terry Centennial Jr.
Kendrell Thompson Champaign Central Sr.
Luke Tucker Argenta-Oreana Sr.
Luke Vaughn Centennial Sr.
Josh Wallick Fisher Jr.
Andrew Warnes Unity Fr.
Zac Weisenbarn Paxton-Buckley-Loda Sr.
Austin Wenskunas Argenta-Oreana Jr.
David Wenzel Unity Jr.
Corey White Champaign Central Jr.
Robert Wolf Mahomet-Seymour So.
Nick Woods Westville Sr.
Hayden Young Paxton-Buckley-Loda Sr.
Zaniel Zilewicz Mahomet-Seymour Sr.
Luke Zimmerman Monticello Sr.
Final N-G Top 10
SCHOOL (PREVIOUS) COMMENT
1. Mahomet-Seymour (1) Bulldogs had state qualifiers in seven events
2. St. Joseph-Ogden (2) Spartans had state qualifiers in nine events
3. St. Thomas More (6) Sabers had state qualifiers in seven events
4. Paxton-Buckley-Loda (—) Panthers had state qualifiers in eight events
5. Centennial (5) Chargers had state qualifiers in two events
6. Salt Fork (9) Storm had state qualifiers in six events
7. Unity (8) Rockets had state qualifiers in nine events
8, Danville (—) Vikings had state qualifiers in two events
9. Champaign Central (10) Maroons had state qualifiers in two events
10. Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley (—) Falcons had state qualifiers in six events