In recent years, it’s been common for Lincoln High athletic director Greg O’Connor to stage a ceremony highlighting student-athletes signing their National Letter of Intent.
More times than not, these ceremonies have involved members of the school’s throwing program, one that since 2012 has been overseen by Brian Grant, the coach who also teaches woodshop at Lincoln. In early December, two members of Lincoln’s Class of 2023 took their well-deserved bows as commitments by Christian Toro (to Duke University) and Jillian Leahy (to Brown University) were recognized for their post-high school plans.
In Toro and Leahy, we’re talking about the two latest examples of a throwing program that’s become synonymous with churning out NCAA Division I talent. It doesn’t matter the gender. Toro is the latest Lincoln male thrower to sign up for an academic/athletic future at a Power Five institution, while Leahy is upholding the tradition of LHS females taking their talents to the D-I level.
In a small town located in Northern Rhode Island, you’ll find a small school that should look into applying for a trademark concerning the business of producing top-flight throwers. To Toro and Leahy, all praise is reserved for Grant, the coach who saw something in them even when they were passionate about other sports.
“None of us would be where we are today without him,” said Toro, who played baseball and football before becoming ultra-serious with throwing. “The credit doesn’t go anywhere else.”
Previously a cheerleader and field hockey player before realizing the appeal of throwing and the doors that could be potentially unlocked,” said Leahy said. “I can’t even think of another coach who would have gotten me to this point.”
How does one go about becoming a prime contender at the state level in the shot put and weight? At Lincoln High, a good place to start is by enrolling in Grant’s class. If you happen to rebuff the coach’s suggestion of giving the world of turns and glides a chance, don’t be surprised if you’re subjected to good-natured/playful ribbing concerning your end-of-semester grade in woodshop.
“He told me he would fail me. I think that’s a common theme on how he recruits kids,” said Leahy, speaking in a playful tone.
“We’re not a big school. We really don’t have a big track & field program. We don’t have anything that feeds into it. I have to beg, borrow, and steal to get kids to join the team,” said Grant. “She [Leahy] finally listened, but a lot of kids don’t listen and don’t expand their vision. They want to do a team sport. This is so individualized. Whatever you put into it is what you get out of it.”
There was a time when neither Toro nor Leahy found themselves pegged as shining examples of the Lincoln throwing program. Then again, neither were Maggie Tarmey, Samantha Andrews, or Ally Plante – three females who rose from novice status to receive the same NLI treatment as Leahy. Tarmey went on to throw at Lehigh University, while Andrews and Plante competed at URI and Sacred Heart, respectively.
Like her Lincoln throwing predecessors, the light eventually went on for Leahy, who last month took home first-place honors in the weight event of the U.S. Army Officials Hall of Fame Invitational.
“I started taking it more seriously, thinking, ‘Wow, I could do this in college,’” said Leahy.
At the same meet where Leahy exited with gold-medal status, Toro established a Lincoln High record in the indoor hammer event. His toss that traveled 79 feet, 1½ inches exceeded the mark previously held by former LHS standout Kyle Moison, who’s currently throwing at Auburn University. Before Moison, Garrett Doyle jumped from Lincoln to Ohio State University.
Talk about having a blueprint to follow.
“I’ve seen many people do it. Why can’t I?” said Toro.
From Grant’s perspective, his approach resembles leading the proverbial horse to water.
“I give them all the tools. It’s up to them how far they want to take this and how serious they are,” he said. “For them, the success they get out of it is the reward.”
“The amount of effort and work that Coach Grant puts into it to help us get somewhere, you want to make him proud,” said Leahy.
Should Lincoln High be viewed as a throwing school? If it were solely up to Toro, the answer would be yes.
“We’ve produced thrower after thrower, one graduating class after the next,” said Toro. “I want people to see the sport as one that can bring out the best in you. To be able to shine some light on it makes me excited and I want others to feel that enthusiasm.”
As Leahy has learned, the distinction referenced by Toro comes with questions.
People ask, “What kind of water are you guys drinking? All of Coach Grant’s throwers seem to find success,” said Leahy.
Should a certain Lincoln High woodshop teacher who doubles as the throwing coach suggest that your grade hangs in the balance if you don’t broaden your horizons, do yourself a favor, head to the circle, and give it a spin.
Brendan McGair is a sportswriter and columnist with the Pawtucket Times and the Woonsocket Call. A graduate of Providence College, McGair is a five-time recipient of the R.I. Sports Writer of the Year Award as voted by the National Sports Media Association (NSMA).
Follow McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03 and on Instagram @bwmcgair.