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HIGH SCHOOL TRACK & FIELD

Sizing up the sheer power and humility of Innovation Academy shot putter Aiden Felty

Aiden Felty practices at the Tyngsborough Sports Center.
Aiden Felty practices at the Tyngsborough Sports Center. (Mark Lorenz for The Boston Globe)

Wearing his hat backwards and donning a black T-shirt with D-U-K-E stamped across the front in blue letters, Aiden Felty was going through pre-practice prep work with three of his fellow throwers on the Innovation Academy Charter indoor track-and-field team.

Inside the Tyngsborough Sports Center, the sturdy 6-foot, 260-pound senior scooped up a handful of chalk from a bucket and rubbed his shoulders and neck. Speakers, courtesy of the 17-year-old Billerica teen, played music for Felty and his teammates.

It’s a tight group, and Felty is unquestionably the leader. And his fun-loving nature and ear-to-ear smile cloak the pure strength that Felty showcases with every one of his throws.

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At the moment, he is the best high school shot putter in the nation.

On Dec. 28, competing in the Boston Holiday Challenge at the Reggie Lewis Center in Roxbury, Felty uncorked a heave of 67 feet, the longest throw this season. It was hardly a fluke. At the MSTCA Coaches Invitational for Small Schools last month, he set a meet record with a throw of 66 feet, ½ inch.. Outdoors, he was the reigning MIAA Division 4 and All-State champion, and a returning Globe All-Scholastic.

In his last 20 meets, the Duke University-bound Felty has 15 first-place finishes. And the five times that he did not win? He was ninth at the outdoor nationals, second at New Englands, 15th at the Penn Relays, and 15th and 16th at the Indoor Nationals and All-State meet, respectively.

Innovation track coach Kyle Thornton calls Felty a “workhorse.”

“He eats, sleeps, and breathes it. He’ll watch videos and he’s talked to some of the pro guys. He does every single thing he can to improve himself, and I think that’s what sets him apart from everyone else.”

Felty looks at his progression from freshman year. “Every year I’d go up about 10 feet, and it was just like every year something new would click for me,” he said.

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“Freshman year, I decided to pick up the weights a little more and that took me to a certain point. Then I was like ‘I need to get better,’ so I changed my technique sophomore year, and then I realized junior year that I needed to make my technique even better. For this year I stepped up the weights as well as my technique.”

Strength training has been pivotal. His personal bests are now 585 pounds in the dead lift, 315 on the bench, and 500 on the back squat.

So too has been his work with Brian Woodbury, founder of the Scarborough, Maine-based SlingSHOT Throws, which works on developing shot put, discus, hammer, and weight throws to the next level.

“Aiden is very bright academically, I mean he has over a 4.0 [grade point average] and that makes it easy to communicate with him and for him to understand concepts as I’m teaching them to him, which has been a huge piece of his success,” said Woodbury.

In practice, Felty spins into his release with a grunt, sending the 12-pound ball into the air for what seems like 5 to 10 seconds before it lands at the other end of the field.

“He’s bringing a level of excitement to the sport that hasn’t really been there for a while,” said
Woodbury.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a high school track meet and seen people really paying attention to throws, but when Aiden does this thing — he starts a slow clap and when he does that, he really gets going — people join in and he manages to keep intensity even when he knows he can win by 20 feet,” said Woodbury.

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Felty does not take a breather after his throws. He chases his shot and returns to the throwing circle in time to cheer on his teammates and give tips before and after each throw — all the while helping to keep things loose. “When it comes to throwers, he takes all the kids under his wing and gives them pointers, and he’ll tweak form here and there,” said Thornton.

“He’s been great helping anyone from ‘I’ve never thrown shot before in [my] life,’ to guys like Jeff [Smith], who is one of our other guys he came up with, he’ll help out in any way. If you ask him to do anything, he’ll do it because he’s just one of those kids.”

And despite his success, and sheer power, Felty maintains his fun-loving nature and light-heartedness.

“You see Aiden as like this big guy, but he’s honestly like Winnie the Pooh almost,” said teammate Jeff Smith. “He’s always making us all laugh even at the worst moments, he’ll just come up to you and do something goofy.”

He likes to enjoy the moment, but when he is competing, he is all business.

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“With Aiden, he’s a perfect example of success through sacrifice. I live and coach out of Maine and he drives two hours each way to come up and work,” said Woodbury.

“His work ethic is a whole different level than most high schoolers. I mean sometimes it’s hard to get people to come 20 minutes to train with me let alone two hours. He sacrifices things most high schoolers never would because he loves the sport.”


Thomas Herron can be reached at thomas.herron@globe.com.