The Quince Orchard High School track and field team was on the basketball courts preparing for one of its first practices last winter when one of Donovan Tyler’s teammates dared him to touch the rim.
Tyler might be a shot putter, but he also has some jumping ability, so he accepted the challenge.
As Tyler leapt, his knee locked, and his tibia broke.
“None of us thought his leg was broken,” Quince Orchard coach Seann Pelkey said. “He’s laying there in extreme pain, and we’re like, ‘Did that just happen?’ A number of kids were laughing at him at the time.
“We tell kids all the time, ‘Don’t horse around. Don’t mess around. Somebody’s going to get hurt.’ This was the ultimate example of it.”
At least Tyler didn’t receive any additional discipline. He missed the entire winter season due to the injury.
“That was my punishment,” Tyler said.
Pelkey also thought the team had gotten off somewhat free in terms of scoring.
“At the time, we didn’t think it was really costing us much, to be honest, because he was just another guy on the team, one of almost a dozen throwers,” Pelkey said. “Had it happened this year, it would have been a huge loss.”
That’s because — after returning last spring and struggling to plant on his healed leg throughout the season — Tyler has become Montgomery County’s premier shot putter this winter. The junior won the county meet with a throw of 45 feet and 11.5 inches and the 4A West Regional with 45 feet and 0.25 inches.
In fact, Tyler has topped his best throw entering the season (36 feet and two inches) in all six of his meets this winter.
“He’s got a little bit more grown-man muscle now,” Pelkey said. “I think he’s a pretty good combination of really good footwork and good strength and explosiveness. I think we’re only just seeing the beginning of what he can do.”
Tyler and Noah Vernick, who Pelkey expected would be the team’s top thrower, have challenged each other in practice throughout the season.
“As soon as you start pointing out that ‘I think Noah’s got you today,’ Donovan comes up with that big throw,” Pelkey said.
Pelkey upped the ante leading up to the county meet, the first meet Tyler was favored to win.
“I kind of intentionally pumped him up as he’s going in with a big target on his back,” Pelkey said. “He’s going in as a favorite. I put a little bit extra on him to make him have to respond to that.”
Tyler responded well by sticking to his typical approach.
“When it comes to sports, I’m kind of in my own world,” Tyler said. “... Just to clear my head, so I can complete the throw when I’m throwing it, because I get nervous about when I see other people throw.”
With that mindset, Tyler has left little doubt about how far he’s come this season. But the big question about his athletic ability rests with another sport.
Can Tyler dunk?
“I won’t let him try,” Pelkey said. “He’ll tell you that he can, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see that he could. He’s not a big guy, but jumping is all about explosiveness, and he’s got a certain amount of pop to him.”
As Pelkey predicted, Tyler said he still sometimes dunks while playing basketball with friends.
“My mom would always say,” Tyler said, ‘If you get hurt, try not to think about it. Just keep doing what you’re doing.’”