CLEARWATER, Fla. – What began as a simple inquiry at a USA Track and Field Annual Meeting about what kind of events could be held on the expansive beach area between the Sheraton Sand Key Resort and the Gulf of Mexico, has turned into a starting point for Florida athletes to earn college athletic scholarships.

The simple inquiry to Weight Throws Sport Director and Coach, Jim Griffin, led to the construction of a throws platform on the white sands of Clearwater Beach and an area of the beach being designated for a Florida Weight Throws Championship for Under 19 athletes and the Ultra Weight Pentathlon.

“There are no indoor track and field opportunities in Florida for youth athletes,” said Griffin.  “Since I’m a throws coach, I’m thinking of any way we can do on the beach to try and obtain marks for some of my athletes. “

At the 2016 Beach Games, a 16-year old Madison “Madi” Malone, a softball player, turned track and field throws athlete, came to Clearwater Beach for the Sunshine State Games (SSG) International Beach Games. She took her spot on the platform with the Gulf of Mexico off in the distance with a goal of reaching 52 feet with her throw.

Certainly, this is the scenario all athletes dream of when they decide to Come Play in Florida.

“Being in Florida for four years and only throwing outside and not indoors, I really didn’t know any better,” she said.  “It was really cool throwing on the beach, but I was focused on hitting the 52-foot mark to advance to the next level and a chance to get recruited.”

On her first thrown, she threw just over 50 feet. On the second throw, her goal was reached at 52 feet and on her third and final throw, she topped 53 feet.

Malone returns to the 2019 SSG Beach Games, having achieved many of her goals since hitting the 52-foot mark.  On Saturday evening at an athlete dinner, she will join an impressive list of athletes and receive the 2018 Sunshine State Games Athlete of the Year Award.

Now a sophomore at Auburn University, majoring in exercise science, Malone is a rising star in the track and field throws world. She was named the 2019 SEC Female Freshman Field Athlete of the Year both indoors and outdoors. She set Auburn records in the weight throw indoors and recorded the top 10 hammer throws ever at Auburn in 2019.

In July, she placed seventh at the 2019 USATF Outdoor Championships, in Des Moines, Iowa.  Her hammer throw of 66.75 meters (219 feet) was the top throw by a collegiate athlete.

“She was competing against professionals,” said Griffin, her first throws coach in South Florida.  “She has a big upside and hasn’t plateaued yet.”

The 2020 USATF Outdoor Championships, held in June, will serve as a qualifier for the 2020 Olympic Games, beginning in late-July.  The top 24 hammer throw athletes qualify for the event and Malone is currently ranked 14th.  With a year of training ahead of her, including this weekend’s SSG International Beach Games, she could find herself on the way to Tokyo for the 2020 Olympic Games.

“Qualifying for the 2020 Olympics would be amazing,” Malone said.  “I’m just lucky to be able to go to the Olympic Trials.  The hammer throw women’s field is probably the best it’s ever been.  We’re pretty deep and only three qualify. My goal is to go and get a personal best.”

Besides Malone’s success, Jim Griffin points to other Florida athletes who have competed in the SSG International Beach Games weight throws event and are now college athletes on scholarship.

Katrina Andreassen and Kayla Rae Gordon, who competed at the 2018 Beach Games are now attending Wake Forest and Columbia University, respectively. Mary Elizabeth Gill, who will compete this weekend and currently a senior at Cardinal Gibbons High School, in Fort Lauderdale, placed eighth in the hammer throw at the USATF National Junior Olympics, in Sacramento, CA, during the summer.  She is exploring college options, which include an interview with the U.S. Naval Academy, according to Griffin.

Over the past 40 years, the Sunshine State Games has provided Florida’s Finest Amateur Athletes with a wide variety of sports. The SSG International Beach Games is an example of how the Florida Sports Foundation continues to offer Florida’s amateur athletes the latest innovations and trends in the national and international sports arena.

In partnership with innovative minds like Jim Griffin, athletes are also earning college scholarships by throwing heavy weights on Florida beaches.

About the Sunshine State Games
The 40th Sunshine State Games are presented annually by the Florida Sports Foundation (FSF), the state’s lead sports promotion and development organization, and a division of Enterprise Florida, Inc.  The Foundation works in conjunction with a variety of local sports industry partners to present the different competitions.  The Sunshine State Games, an annual amateur sports tradition in Florida, is part of the state’s $57.4 billion sports industry that accounts for 580,000 jobs statewide. #PlayInFlorida