ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
For Milford Klaassen of Hillsboro, the glory of accomplishment rests
in working hard to be the best you can be?even if you?re not always
the best in your field.
Klaassen, having invested countless hours to refine his technique, set
a Hillsboro High School record in the shot put that has lasted 31
And he didn?t even win his event.
It was the 1969 Cottonwood Valley League meet. Klaassen unleashed a
throw of 54-103/4 to set a new school and league record.
His league record lasted mere minutes. Gary Melcher of Marion,
Klaassen?s arch rival during his high school career, stepped in the
ring and heaved the shot an amazing 58-63/4.
?It didn?t bother me all that much,? Klaassen recalls. ?I knew I had
done the best I could. I would have loved to beat him, but to me that
wasn?t the big deal because I knew that I couldn?t beat him by my
Indeed, Melcher went on to beat Klaassen?and everybody else?at the
regional and state track meets that year. He also was state champion
in the discus and javelin. His shot put record still stands at Marion
But Melcher wasn?t Klaassen?s only competition that year. The late
?60s was a golden era of sorts for shot putters in this area.
?There were about four of us who were always competing with each other
wherever we went,? Klaassen recalls. ?You had to throw over 50 feet
just to place. That probably was as much my incentive as anything.?
Klaassen managed five first-place medals his senior year, but didn?t
win every time out. He placed fourth at state on a cold and wet day.
It was the only meet in 1969 when he didn?t throw at least 50 feet.
Klaassen started throwing the shot put in grade school. He credits
coaches Lee Albrecht and Glenn Schrag with getting him started.
In high school, Klaassen came under the tutelage of Don Penner, who
continues coaching Trojan throwers today.
?He?s the one who really encouraged me, and where I really learned the
technique,? Klaassen says. ?He was a shot putter in high school and
college and knew what he was talking about.?
Penner says, ?The thing I remember about him was that he had
tremendous explosion right at the end (of a throw), which is really
what it takes.?
Klaassen first broke the HHS school record during his junior season
with a throw of 53-41/2. He raised that mark to 54-31/2 his senior
year before launching his final record-setter at the league meet.
Klaassen went on to play football and throw the shot at Tabor College.
He set a school record there with the 16-pound shot of 49-2. That
record has since been broken, but not his mark at HHS.
?When you think about 30 years, that?s ancient for anything to last
that long,? he says. ?There have been some guys who have thrown who
have had the ability to break it, but they haven?t been dedicated to
Athletes since 1969 have generally grown bigger and stronger than
Klaassen was, but he says body size and strength aren?t the most
important factors for throwing the shot.
?I think technique is probably the most important part,? he says. ?A
lot of the meets I was at?and a lot I see now?the little guy with the
good form is going to beat the big strong guy (with bad form) every
His former coach agrees.
?In high school, you don?t have to be that big if you?ve got good
technique and good explosion,? Penner said.
Klaassen said in his day, strength and conditioning through
weight-lifting was not taken seriously?at least not by athletes.
?In high school we lifted weights during basketball season?(coaches)
made us if we weren?t out for basketball,? Klaassen said. ?But we
spent most of the time messing around. I don?t know that it benefitted
me much. I got most of my strength from farm work?bucking bales and
throwing silage out of the silo. It was a different kind of work.?
From the start, Klaassen liked throwing the shot and found he had some
natural abilities in the event. But his success came from working on
?It?s something that you can?t be shown how to do, then just go out
and do it,? he says. ?It doesn?t work that way. I depended a lot on
Coach (Penner) telling me what to do, and then I worked on it.?
School records were frosting on the cake, Klaassen said.
?I took it seriously, but I wasn?t obsessed by it, either,? he said.
?In high school, it was just an event that I did. I don?t know that it
was ever in my mind that I had to break the record. It just happened.?
He also set the school record in the discus, a mark which has since
Klaassen has fond memories of his track experience.
?It was something where I didn?t have to depend on anybody else,? he
says. ?If I messed up, it was my fault. If I did good, it was my
?I felt good even though I didn?t win a lot of meets,? he adds. ?I did
as good as I could, the competition was just better. That didn
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF