GREAT FALLS — Few, if any, Montana all-class track and field records are more impressive than Dennis Black’s 68-feet, 1/2-inch shot put throw in 1991. The former Great Falls High standout launched a state-best 70-07 the same season, setting a Memorial Stadium record.
Black was on hand Friday morning for the boys Class AA state shot put competition, sitting straight past the sand to watch Helena Capital’s Justin Jenks.
“He’s very smooth, he’s very fast and fluid, he hits positions very well,” Black said of Jenks. “A lot of things come into factor in rotational shot putting. The big thing with Justin is that he turns really well in the middle of the ring, gets a good plant and comes up over the board. He’s a great thrower and he’ll have good success at (Colorado State University Pueblo) next year.”
Black often pays attention to the top shot put throwers in Montana each season, monitoring whether or not his record is in jeopardy. He hasn’t had to worry often, but Jenks came closer than Black had seen in some time, throwing a state-best 63-01 3/4 earlier this season.
Jenks drew a crowd larger than average in the shot put event, with fans and coaches from schools across the state in attendance to see if Black’s record could be pushed. The Capital senior hit 60 feet even on his first toss, before landing a 64-03 1/2 that would break his own program record, win the state meet and re-write Montana’s shot put record books again.
“My speed was good through the ring, my release at the end was perfect. It was good,” said Jenks. “It was fun. I love coming out and competing, doing what I do best.”
“That mark of Justin’s, it was a heck of a throw,” said Black. “It puts him at No. 3 all-time in state history behind my mark and Shane Collins of Bozeman, who in 1987 went 66 feet, 1 inch at divisionals, then 64-07 here at the state meet. Justin is a fantastic competitor and has a heck of a future ahead of him.”
“It’s amazing to have the record-holder show up and congratulate you, recognize that you did good. That was cool,” added Jenks.
Jenks said he was aiming for the 65-foot range but was pleased with his state championship-winning throw. Black, however, says it’s time for an athlete to surpass his mark
“I’ve actually, to be honest with you, I’ve held the mark long enough and was really hoping that during my coaching tenure I would get to witness it go down and I would be the first guy to shake the kid’s hand,” he said. “I thought that Justin would have a pretty good shot getting out there, I figured he would go somewhere around 20 meters, which is 65-07 1/2. He put on a good show (Friday), I’m proud of the boy.”
Nearly three decades have gone by since Black made history, but he says he remembers both throws — the 68-foot all-class record and the near-71-foot toss that ranks No. 1 all-time in the Treasure State.
“As a thrower, your best throws feel effortless. When one comes off your hand and you don’t think it’s going to be very good, you stop, turn around and wait for it to land and you’re like, ‘Oh my goodness. That was a heck of a throw.’ You just know as a thrower, it’s tough to explain the sensation when you know it’s a good throw, but you raise your hand and it’s like, ‘That’s it. That’s the mark.’ It’s a lot of fun,” said Black.
It may be years before another thrower like Jenks comes along, looking to at least flirt with the distances Black hit 27 years ago, but when they do, Black says he will be there, recording video with his phone — like he did with Jenks on Friday morning — and offering quiet applause with each toss.
When that record does fall, and Black firmly believes it will, they may not have to change the last name in the record books.
“Eventually someone will come along that wants it bad enough. I have a little guy over here, my youngest boy, he really wants a crack at it,” Black said. “It just depends on how hard someone wants to work and how dedicated they are.”