By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
While other kids have basketball hoops in their driveways, Cullen Prena and his sisters have a discus ring.
“I wish,” Cullen said Wednesday when asked if it was so.
You won’t find shot put craters in the family's lawn either.
But drive past the Prenas’ home when his sisters are home from college, and there’s a chance you’ll catch the Walled Lake Central junior and his Big Ten thrower siblings, Kari (University of Michigan) and Kelsey (Michigan State), talking over their craft.
“My sisters got me into it,” Cullen said. “It was a random summer day, and they were going to Central to throw. They asked me if I wanted to go with, and I said ‘Sure.’
“Ever since then I’ve been all into it. It’s basically taken over my life.”
Those first tosses came in the summer before Prena entered seventh grade. Five years later, he’s making a bid to go down as Michigan’s top high school thrower of all-time.
The fifth-place finisher in discus at last season’s MHSAA Division 1 Final Meet, Prena quickly has established himself as a heavy favorite this spring. He receives a Second Half High 5 this week after throwing an incredible 187 feet, 7 inches to win discus at Saturday’s Oxford Invitational, on top of also winning the shot put with a toss of 52-1.
Earlier in April, Prena topped 180 feet in discus two more times, in the process breaking both his school and then the Oakland County records that had both stood for at least 29 years according to a report by the Oakland Press.
And here’s the kicker: Prena’s top discus throw last season was a solid – but compared to now, mere – 159-9.
“His increase over the course of time, the average spectator can’t see it. But from sixth grade, he’s been training,” said Walled Lake Central boys track coach Nebojsa Stojkovic, who also works with the team’s throwers.
“You know how to gauge kids based on worth ethic and what their bodies are able to do. When freshman year he threw 144 feet, I knew the talent that was coming up.He’s got God-given ability that’s different from everyone else.”
That combination has made Prena something to behold this season.
His work ethic has benefited him with an increase in strength, evidenced by 30-40 percent improvements in all of his weight room lifts over the last year. Prena formerly played football, basketball and baseball, but decided to focus solely on weight training for track this school year in part after tearing a meniscus during his sophomore football season.
And then there’s two natural gifts for a thrower – Prena is double-jointed, allowing him increased flexibility for a stronger whip motion on his discus tosses. He also gets additional power from a wingspan that measures longer than his 6-foot-2 height.
He threw well at indoor competitions during the winter, and was tossing the discus consistently in the 170s when outdoor practice began this spring. In his team’s first meet, against White Lake Lakeland, he threw the discus 177 and then a best of 184-7, and also tossed the shot put 52-10 – more than three feet better than his previous outdoor personal-best in the latter event.
“It was hard to sleep (at night) after a meet when you throw a great throw like that,” Prena said.
Aside from some tires during workouts, Prena hasn’t tried tossing other heavy objects. “Other than my parents and my sisters; that’s about it,” he said, joking, of course.
But he's in serious pursuit of the MHSAA Finals record for discus. Prena’s best toss this season would’ve won every MHSAA Final dating back to 2003 and all seven of last season’s Finals (four Lower Peninsula, three Upper) by at least a foot.
That Finals record of 197-11 belongs to former Portage Northern standout Joey Sarantos, who set it in 2001. Prena must improve another 11 feet – which seems like a logical next step after this spring's gigantic 28-foot jump.
“Last year’s state meet ... didn’t quite go the way I wanted it to, and it’s been in the back of my mind since then,” Prena said. “Coming off of weight training, I kinda expected (the improvement). But you don’t know until you see the stuff. And then I started realizing it, and it was setting in that this is real. This is ridiculous."
PHOTOS: (Top) Walled Lake Central's Cullen Prena warms up before the discus throw that would break the Oakland County record. (Middle) Prena surveys the scene before another discus toss. His best this season is 187-7. (Photos courtesy of Walled Lake Central and David Mexicotte.)