Whitney Hooks, center, listens to the Robert Griffith, right, father of potential client, Rylee Griffith, in Everett on March 31. The four-time state champion shot put thrower from Cascade High School has returned to the area to train and mentor young people. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

A track-and-field star comes home to coach young throwers

EVERETT — Whitney Hooks is one of the greatest high school track and field throwers in Snohomish County history.

Now she’s doing her part in trying to help produce her successor.

The former Cascade High School star has returned to the area with the goal of training young throwers through the Hooks Academy, which she hopes will not only open up college scholarship opportunities for local athletes but also provide guidance for teens in need.

Hooks was a force of nature during her years at Cascade from 2002-06. She won four consecutive 4A state championships in the shot put, and her mark of 47 feet, 3 inches in 2006 still stands as the 4A meet record. She added state state titles in the discus in 2005 and 2006. She went on to earn a scholarship to the University of Washington and after one year transferred to Cal State Northridge, where she completed her collegiate career in 2011.

After that her focus turned away from the shot-put ring and toward social issues, as she began working toward her masters degree in marriage and family therapy, as well as assisting young people who had issues with mental health and drug addiction.

But it was this spring when she had the inspiration to combine her athletic and social endeavors, moving back to the Pacific Northwest from southern California in order to start the Hooks Academy.

“Talking with the youth, they’re struggling with some of the same things I struggled with,” Hooks said. “Teenagers, they get good at living a double life until somebody can crack them or really be there to say, ‘I walked in your shoes and these are the mistakes I made and I hope you don’t make them because they’ll set you back in life.’

“That’s what brought me home. “I was like, ‘How can I use my athletic ability to help people get educated?’ because I think education is the key.”

Hooks’ answer was to open the Hooks Academy, in which she can help train throwers to hone their craft, but also be an advocate for youth.

To that goal, Hooks partnered with Excelerate Sport via the Snohomish Sports Institute. She provides one-on-one coaching for aspiring throwers, and she also works at getting those athletes exposure for the purpose of earning college scholarships.

“You can get a scholarship doing throws, and it’s pretty open right now,” Hooks said. “There’s not a lot of high-caliber throwers — they’re hard to find, so they definitely have a better open gate to getting a scholarship.

“A lot of athletes, they don’t even know the process of being recruited, let alone how to get in contact with a person to talk to them about a scholarship. Then a lot of the times parents and athletes aren’t really comfortable pitching their child to a school. But I will be the person to stand up on a ledge for them.”

There are few options for those searching for a throwing-specific coach. Cathy Gallo, whose daughter Kaitlyn participates in the shot put as an eighth grader at Leota Junior High School in Woodinville, was looking for someone to work with her daughter. Kaitlyn Gallo had been dealing with knee and ankle injuries, and Cathy Gallo was looking for a coach to help improve her daughter’s technique so that the injuries wouldn’t recur. Alex Harrison of Excelerate Sports referred the Gallos to Hooks.

“Kaitlyn really enjoyed the shot put, but while the coaching at the junior high level is great, we wanted to prevent any further injury,” Cathy Gallo said.

“I’d gone searching for someone to work with her, and that’s how I found Excelerate Sports. We’re encouraged by what we’ve seen so far because as a parent I don’t know anything about the next level of the sport.”

While Hooks now finds herself working with young throwers, there’s one other thrower who her efforts have inspired: herself. Hooks said her delve back into the sport has revived her own competitive career in the shot put.

“I haven’t been this excited about throws since my freshman and sophomore years of high school,” Hooks said. “I ran into a trainer at a meet and I decided I’m going to take a run at the 2020 (Olympics in Tokyo). I’m going to start training again. It’s really brought back the fire in me. I miss the competitive edge, I miss pushing my body to the limit.”

So Hooks is getting back into the swing of things herself. But at the same time she’s trying to help young throwers who, like her, have high aspirations.

If you have an idea for a community sports story, e-mail Nick Patterson at npatterson@heraldnet.com.

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