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'Machine': Dedication to weightlifting turned Belgrade's Charles Yunker into discus star

'Machine': Dedication to weightlifting turned Belgrade's Charles Yunker into discus star
Posted at 10:02 AM, May 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-17 12:19:40-04

BELGRADE — Belgrade senior Charles Yunker is the No. 1 discus thrower in Class AA and No. 2 in Panthers history behind Derek Marks, but the only person he is trying to beat is himself.

“It’s just something I enjoy,” said Yunker. “It’s something I started in middle school. Since then I’ve gotten better each year.”

On May 4, Yunker took home first place hitting a career-high mark of 149 feet, 5 inches at the Midland Roundtable Top 10 in Laurel. Marks’ Belgrade record is 152-3. This year, the next-closest AA competitor to Yunker is Helena Capital's Dylan Cunningham, who's 11 inches behind.

“It felt good, especially with all this work that’s been put in,” the Belgrade senior said of the Midland Roundtable throw. “There’s still marks that I’m wanting to hit. I still got things I’m chasing.”

Since joining the team as an underclassman Yunker has continued to put on size and strength. Over the past year during COVID-19, he’s lived in the weight room. His favorite lift: the squat. He didn’t even throw a discus during the shutdown.

“It really helps to kill time,” Yunker said. "If I'm ever bored, I go lift. It’s definitely helped here in track a lot.”

Belgrade boys track head coach Scott Palmer has seen Yunker grow over the years, not only in size but in strength. When he first came out for the track team as an underclassman he didn’t look the part of a discus thrower. He still doesn’t with his lean and muscular frame.

“To call the kid a machine I think is an understatement,” Palmer said. “Like clockwork he would go (to the gym). He had his routine, he would do these set lifts. You still look at him and you don’t realize how strong he is until you actually see him in the weight room in person and you get a quick glimpse of, ‘Wow, he’s really done the right things to put himself in the right position to be successful.’”

However, when it comes to competition, the Belgrade senior only competes against himself. He doesn’t worry about breaking Marks’ school record or staying ahead of Cunningham. He doesn't even care if he wins a medal at state, he just wants to improve on his own throws.

“I just feel that’s the best way to get better at something,” Yunker said. “It is nice to go out there and get first place. I’ve gotten first place this year every single meet we’ve had. I feel if I’m to get better at this sport each week, I have to beat myself and not worry about anybody else.”

Despite his success, Yunker is quiet and humble. He also is a great leader.

“He wants to win,” said Palmer. “He wants to do well, but he also turns around to his team and helps everyone else. He’s an extension of the coaching staff. He’s the first one to help a kid and say, 'Hey, this part of your form is off. Hey, let's go work on this.’ He’ll grab them, he’ll talk to them about it. It’s those characteristics that make him who he is.”

Palmer has one word to describe the discus star.

“Priceless is the word,” he said. “You can’t even describe what he’s worth. If I’m not here -- you know, coaching another event or involved in something else -- knowing that there’s someone on the team that’s going to be there as an extension. He’s grooming the next generation.”