Stuart's Klusner Wins One for Jeremy

Through the tears in his eyes, J.E.B. Stuart senior Michael Klusner tried to explain the significance of his win in the 5A Boys shot put on Friday morning.

"I did it for Jeremy," said the senior, who was seated in a chair just beyond the far bleachers at the Boo Williams Sportsplex.

Jeremy Munga was a football teammate of Klusner's at the Falls Church school. He was slated to be a slot back and safety for the Raider team. The two were preparing for the upcoming season last July when Munga went on a boating trip from which he never returned.

"He should be here," said Klusner, sporting a red wristband with "R.I.P. Jeremy" highlighted in white letters. "He was on the boat and did a backflip into the water." Holding back more tears, Klusner finished his thought. "He never came up."

Still, Jeremy was with him on Friday morning. He used to text me all the time (saying) "you better win state next year." I went back through his texts again (before today).

During the same week of Munga's passing, Klusner, and the Stuart community were struck with tragedy again when Austin Fitzpatrick, another football teammate of Klusner, committed suicide.

"He was supposed to be the star of the team. He could jump, run, he could do anything," said Klusner of Fitzpatrick. "He was working out with us that day (of his death).

The pressure began building up on the Raider thrower at Munga's funeral. "People were coming up to me at the service saying, "go and win states for Jeremy." I could have cared less about winning states -- this (effort) was for him."

And what an effort it was. The 5A shot-put was supposed to be a Battle of Richmond, with Xavier Ivey of Hermitage and Connor Scott of Lee-Davis both sharing the top seed with a throw of 55-10.5. Klusner's own best throw of 53-5 had him firmly entrenched in third, almost two-and-a-half feet behind the leaders, and nearly four feet ahead of the fourth seed.

But there was a secret, unknown to his opponents. "I knew I had a chance," said Klusner. "I was throwing 55 feet in practice, but they didn't know that yet. I knew I could catch them by surprise."

On his third throw, Klusner glided, turned and threw the 12-lb. ball 54 feet and six inches, enough to nudge into the lead over Ivey and Scott.

Klusner's lead held firm through the final rounds, and won Klusner and Stuart their first state track title of this millennium.

It was not a moment lost of the Stuart coaches. Leonard Reynolds, who has coached with the Raiders for the better part of 20 years, could only shake his head when reminded of the fact. Distance coach Peter Guevara, a newer member of the coaching staff, and 2012 Stuart graduate, was able to find words.

"(In Klusner) we have a guy working hard with a purpose and determination. Hopefully, that will inspire our other athletes."

There was help from another source. Reynolds was quick to point a reporter back toward the infield where Washington-Lee throwing coach Josh Patulski was preparing his 6A state title favorite, and future Auburn thrower, Benedict Draghi.

"Coach (Patulski) had a lot to do with this," said Reynolds. "We were basically here to talk with (Michael).

Patulski joined forces with Klusner last year. "We started out in the summer. I was a glider myself, so I like to be able to help a guy out." Although the two represent different schools, both Stuart and W-L are members of the former National District.

Klusner will continue his education, and throwing career, next year at Tiffin University in northeast Ohio.