by Scott Kindberg
June 8, 2001
Battle Is No. 1 On And Off The Athletic Fields
Sheldon Battle stands in the shot put circle at Strider Field, the 12-pound mass of metal resting in his right hand and against his right cheek. With two quick spins of his 6-foot-2, 235-pound body, he launches the shot beyond a mark in the dirt more than 50 feet away. Performer in field events, it means he has more work to do.
Jamestown High School boys track coach Greg Sherlock watches intently.
To most high schoolers, a throw of 50 feet is cause for celebration, but for Battle, Western New York’s premier performer in field events, it means he has more work to do.
“Working out the weekly kinks,” Battle says with a wry smile.
So time after time, he practices his footwork under Sherlock’s watchful eye.
“He’s overstriding a lot,” Sherlock says. “You want to get repetitions. Sometimes kids don’t want to take the time to make an all-state lineman get better… In Sheldon’s case, he’ll do anything to get better.”
Whether it’s with the shot – where he’s second in Western New York and second in the state – or the discus – where’s he’s the defending state champion and one of the elite in the nation - or on the football field – where he was an all-state defensive lineman – Battle has an intense desire to succeed.
“As far as we’re concerned, he’s the top kid we’ve ever worked with in the shot and disc,” said Jim Painter, an assistant track coach who has taught at JHS for 33 years. “He has great form.”
All that talent and all that desire will be put to the supreme test beginning today at the state Track and Field Championships at Mitchell Field in Uniondale, Long Island.
He’s the overwhelming favorite to defend his discus title. After all, he’s thrown 20 feet farther (a WNY record 192-10) than anyone else has this spring and he has his eye on the state mark (198-10). The JHS senior is also among the favorites in the shot (59-3 ¾), less than two inches behind Sweet Home’s Aaron Mitchell, who is No. 1 at 59-5 ½.
“This year I know I have the edge (in the discus) because I won it last year, and I have to keep up the pace because everybody is going to chase me. I have to go in with the mindset that I have to prove myself again.”
Joe DiMaio hadn’t seen anything like it in more than 20 years. But there was the JHS assistant football coach watching from the sidelines at Ralph Wilson Stadium last November as Battle put on a defensive clinic in the Section 6 Class A championship game against Lancaster.
When it was over, Battle had accumulated 14 tackles, 3 ½ sacks, and enough harried Redskins to fill a good-sized bus.
Not surprisingly the Red Raiders walked away with a convincing 23-0 victory on their way to the state championship.
“That game and the game Sammy Restivo (class of ‘80) had at the same place probably stand out in my mind of how two kids took a defensive stand and just dominated people,” DiMaio said. “I’ll always look upon Sheldon as one of those kids you remember in terms of ‘Boy, could he play the game.’”
All-State in football and in the running for state titles in the shot and discus, put Battle in some lofty company among the all-time great athletes in JHS history.
“He’s with them,” DiMaio said. “I always hate to say ‘top athlete’ but Sheldon is so versatile. He’ll run fast and block hard. Sometimes we can get kids to do one or the other. We’ve had a lot of kids that can do that, but very seldom have we had the luxury of having a kid we could run on a deep pattern, run the middle trap or block the end.
“He’s right up there (with the best).”
Sherlock recalled the time a few weeks ago when Battle decided to run the lead leg against the Red Raiders’ 400-meter relay.
In his socks.
“He gets in these moods and he likes to try it and the other kids like to watch him,” Sherlock said. “He did it out of a standing start whereas the other kid did it out of the blocks. He took off and made up the stagger in just one turn. You’re talking about a kid that weighs 245 pounds. I think that’s what sets Sheldon apart. Here’s a kid with that size and speed and he has the build for a discus thrower and shot putter.”
Battle, the son of Fred Battle and Kristen Battle, doesn’t like to talk about his own personal accomplishments, although he admits that it’s nice to hear he’s among his school’s best all-time athletes. Of course, athleticism runs in the genes.
“It kind of goes with the family seeing that I’m a Battle,” he said. “I have to work hard because all my uncles are good athletes, so I have to do the job. They came through and did their jobs, so now I’m just kind of helping the Battle name.”
Sherlock admits he’s never seen an athlete the caliber of Battle.
“Sheldon can pretty much do anything he wants,” Sherlock said.
But it’s what Battle does away from competition that the coach admires most. In fact, it’s not unusual for Battle to give away the trophies, medals and T-shirts that he wins at various meets. And there was, of course, the time last December when he gave his new watch – presented to each senior on the JHS football team – to Jim Pollaro, the team’s bus driver.
“To him, it’s no big deal,” Sherlock said. “He’s not arrogant about his sport. If there’s anybody who could have an ego, it would be Sheldon, but he’s not like that. He’s such a good kid. He just wants to compete. As far as awards, it’s not a big deal to him. he’s the first kid that I’ve coached that could care less.”
“I try to be humble,” Battle said, “because one time if you say something bad someone’s going to think bad about you. I just try and be humble and spread everything around. Once you’re in the spotlight, you have to consider everyone else.”
Painter, who has a daughter Battle’s age, has known him for years. “He will joke and kid around, but he understands other people have feelings.”
So it’s not unusual for Battle to be a sounding board for his friends, a kid that will listen, understand and show compassion for others in need. When asked if considered himself a role model, Battle nodded.
“You have to be, because they look up to you and someday they might want to be like you,” he said. “You have to set a positive example so they don’t go the wrong way.”
Battle’s season won’t end with the competition of the state track and field championships. Next weekend, he and Sherlock will be headed to the Adidas/Foot Locker Classic in Raleigh, N.C.
“They contacted us and wanted him to come down,”: Sherlock said. “That was nice.”
An impressive showing there will undoubtedly help in marketing his skills to colleges.
The school that has shown the most interest so far is the University at Buffalo. Battle also said he has talked regularly with Kansas.
But there was a time where there was some doubt whether Division I schools would come calling. Battle, a bright kid with solid SAT scores, didn’t exactly apply himself in the classroom early in his high school career.
“In the beginning, I didn’t do a lot of work, but I don’t know why I didn’t do it,” Battle said. “Now that I do it, it’s easy. I go home, sit down and just do it really quick.”
Then it’s on to the thing he really enjoys – competition.
“He’s wanted to get that state record (in the discus) since the beginning of the year,” Sherlock said, “and I don’t put anything past Sheldon. He’s done it in practice many times, but competition is a different thing. Sheldon has been very, very consistent the last three weeks and throws over 190 every single week.” in 12 months.
And if that happens again today and he uncorks a great throw in the shot Saturday, well, he could come home with his fourth state title.
“It would be the Grand Slam,” DiMaio said. “He could be the Tiger Woods of Jamestown High School.”