Wy’east Middle School student Henry Buckles has had quite the season this year as a member of the Hood River County School District’s middle school track and field program.
Buckles, the son of Danielle and Garin Buckles, of Odell, competes in shot put and discus and will enter Hood River Valley High School as a freshman in the fall. As an eighth-grader, he won or finished second in nearly every event he entered this season. He took the Mt. Hood Conference title in shot during the district meet late last month in Gresham and was runner up in discus. He qualified for the Oregon Middle School Meet of Champions in Corvallis two days later, taking sixth in shot and second in discus.
According to track and field site Athletic.net, Buckles’ personal record (PR) in shot of 46 feet, 8.5 inches was eighth-best among Oregon middle schoolers this season and 19th in the nation. In discus, his PR of 154-05 ranked him second in the state and 14th in the nation. Those stats put him first all-time for Hood River Valley middle schoolers in the 8-pound shot put, blowing the old record out of the water by nearly five feet, and second in the 1-kilogram disc, trailing the first-place record by about a foot-and-a-half.
The owner of those records? None other than Sebastian Barajas, a 2016 HRVHS graduate, who is the most decorated thrower in the history of the high school, and one of the best in the history of Oregon prep throwers. Barajas, who now competes in Division I track and field for the illustrious University of Oregon program, won the 5A state discus title four years in a row (the only athlete to ever do so) in high school, broke the 200-foot mark and the 5A state meet record in the process, and led the Eagle boys to their first track and field state championship.
But Barajas isn’t irked by Buckles breaking his middle school record. In fact, he helped make it possible.
When Barajas isn’t busy with school and his own workouts, he helps Buckles train once a week during the summer — not to mention on breaks during the school year — to get better at the sport, and ideally, to see Buckles break Barajas’ high school records as well.
A natural athlete who’s been involved in a litany of sports over the years, Buckles is a late bloomer when it comes to track and field, starting last year. Like many other athletes, he originally joined the track team as a way to condition for another sport — in this case, football, where Buckles plays tackle and defensive end.
“Initially, to join track, I just wanted to get faster for football and then I ended up throwing and running,” Buckles recalls. “I was pretty good at throwing, and I tried to work on it, and people would help me.”
By the end of his seventh-grade season, Buckles had improved greatly in both disciplines, adding nine feet to his first shot put attempt of the year and adding 37 feet to his first discus throw. But a disappointing finish in discus at the 2016 district meet made Buckles “pretty mad,” and he didn’t want that to happen again.
“Henry is the kind of kid that is extremely intelligent and wants to do better,” explains Devery Broddie, one of his track and field coaches. “He had determined after last year that he was going to be the best he could be at this.”
Buckles says another coach of his, Steve Wrye, suggested he work with Barajas to improve his throws if he were truly serious about the sport. Barajas didn’t have much in the way of coaching experience, but he agreed. They worked out a week or two after the district meet, and Barajas’ influence was immediate. By the end of the first training session, Buckles says he improved his discus throws by 20 feet.
Barajas was impressed by what he saw in Buckles — not only in talent, but in work ethic.
“He’s tall, he’s really willing to work, and that’s kind of why I continued coaching him; I was excited to see him improve,” Barajas says. “It was exciting to see him as excited about the sport as much as I was.
“He’s a good athlete. Aside from that, he’s a great person, he’s humble, he’s very shy,” Barajas added. “He’s one of those guys who you tell to run a mile and he will kind of shake his head a little and then go do it.”
The two continued to train throughout the summer and into the fall and winter — Buckles notes he had fun throwing in the snow — with Barajas teaching his young charge how to spin and other techniques. When Barajas wasn’t around, Buckles would continue to practice on his own. By the time spring rolled around and the 2017 track and field season started, Buckles was ready to go.
In the first meet of his eighth-grade season, Buckles threw the shot about a foot-and-half farther than his best throw of 2016, and the discus 25 feet farther. By the end of spring, Buckles had improved on those new marks by 12.5 feet and 29 feet, respectively, putting him on track with where Barajas was in 2012 during his eighth-grade season. Out of the 17 throwing events he entered this spring as a member of the middle schools’ track and field team, Buckles won 13 of them.
The two have forged a bond outside of training as well, attending each other’s track meets on occasion. Garin Buckles notes that Barajas is “kind of like a big brother.” Barajas was on hand May 25 in Corvallis to see Buckles set a new Hood River middle school record in shot put at the Oregon Middle School Meet of Champions, breaking Barajas’ old record for the second time. Earlier in the month, Buckles went down to visit Barajas during the Pac-12 Championships. U of O swept, with the men winning their 11th-consecutive Pac-12 title.
Next year will likely present more of a challenge for Buckles. In high school, Buckles will move up from the 8-pound shot to a 12-pound shot and from a 1-kg discus to a 1.6-kg discus. Barajas believes Buckles can make the necessary adjustments, but it won’t be easy. Buckles says that because of the heavier implements, he would like by the end of his freshman year to be hitting the same distances he threw at the end of his eighth-grade season. Broddie believes Buckles has what it takes as well.
“I’ve seen elite throwers throwing in an elite arena… in my opinion, he looks the part, feels the part, acts the part, which means, I think, he’ll be the part,” he says.
Buckles isn’t the only one benefitting from Barajas’ expertise, though. With Buckles’ encouragement, Barajas has decided to host throwing clinics throughout the summer, and already has a handful of interested kids — one of whom is Barajas’ little sister. Buckles has also done some informal coaching, passing on Barajas’ tips and tricks to his eager throwing colleagues. The aim is to build up the school’s throwing program, and if one student, like Buckles, can find success, it can attract others to the sport as well.
“He wants me to beat him,” Buckles says of Barajas. “He really wants a good throwing program in Hood River and he wants good throwers to come through, so he wants me to beat his record, by a lot, like by as much as possible.”
Still, some athletes are protective of their records, and Broddie was emphatic in his characterization of Barajas’ willingness to help Buckles break those records as anomalous.
“No, not everyone would do that. No, no, no, no, absolutely not… that speaks tremendously to the character of (Barajas),” Broddie notes.
Barajas does, however, admit he would have mixed emotions if those records were broken. He spent four years working hard to set them. But, ultimately, seeing his protégé exceed those marks would be satisfying too — just in a different way.
“Throwing 200 (feet in discus) is pretty difficult,” he says. “A side of me wants to keep that record; that was a lifetime achievement for me… but the way I see it, maybe in the future, maybe I want to be a coach, and if I can coach a 200-foot thrower, that’s a sign of my success as well.”