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Hall of Famer

During Dave Kaczenski’s junior year of high school, he had a change of heart about what sports he wanted to play.

The Greenfield native’s first passion had always been soccer, a sport he continued to play during the fall. But for much of his life, he spent the spring and summer months on a baseball diamond, playing youth ball and then suiting up for the Greenfield High School junior varsity. But in the spring of his junior year, Kaczenski felt like he wasn’t getting a fair shake on the diamond and opted for the track & field team.

The move wound up paying off, as Kaczenski picked up the javelin and it was a match made in heaven. He would go on to finish second at the state championships during his senior year, then put together a solid collegiate record. That career included three springs at Westfield State University and the three-time All-New England honoree will be inducted into Westfield State’s Hall of Fame on Oct. 18 at Scanlon Banquet Hall.

The current Northfield resident’s route to the Hall started in 1977, then a junior at GHS deciding to head to the track & field practice rather than the baseball field, which he had done during his first two years of high school. That first spring was not the smoothest of transitions, as Kaczenski tried a number of different events, including the pole vault and distance running. Finally, coach Peter Conway put a javelin in Kaczenski’s hands. During his baseball days, Kaczenski had been a pitcher, so he was accustomed to throwing, but the javelin was far different than a baseball, and at first he didn’t fair so well. But by the end of his first season he was beginning to see improvement and his senior year went well enough for him to make it all the way to the state championship meet. Kaczenski said he was a relative unknown at the States, but he unleashed a throw of 189 feet, 11 inches and nearly won the title, falling to a student from Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School by six inches.

“Going to the state meet was pretty cool,” Kaczenski recalled. “It was in Boston and you go there with a ton of people. I was not bad during the season, but then I only missed winning the States by six inches.”

Kaczenski chose to attend UMass and in his freshman year he participated on the track & field team and actually qualified for the Yankee Conference Championships during his freshman year, when he threw 201 feet to finish fifth. Unfortunately, he felt like UMass was too big and was not the place for him, so he returned home and attended Greenfield Community College.

While at GCC, Kaczenski was able to rekindle his passion for soccer, by playing on the GCC soccer team. During high school, Kaczenski was a captain on the soccer team and helped lead the Green Wave to its best single-season record of all-time. Then, during his time at GCC, he led the team in scoring. He also played for a semi-pro team called the Westfield Kickers.

“Soccer was my passion in high school,” he said. “Playing for the Westfield Kickers, that was fantastic ball. But for whatever reason, I didn’t play when I went to Westfield State. I guess I wanted to concentrate on the javelin.”

Kaczenski transferred for one final time when he moved on from GCC to go to Westfield State during the spring of 1981. He walked on to the track & field team, which was coached at the time by Jerry Gravel.

“I was pretty much an unknown when I went there,” Kaczenski said. “I said, ‘Hey, I’d like to throw the javelin for the team.’”

Kaczenski wound up making an immediate impact, which included helping a number of the younger throwers. While he was in school, the javelin throwers actually had to go over to Westfield’s Stanley Park to practice because there was not enough room at the team’s facility for the javelin throwers. In a press release issued by WSU, Gravel mentioned Kaczenski’s time at Stanley Park.

“David was a hard working, dedicated athlete who trained on his own in Stanley Park,” Gravel explained. “And he helped train our young javelin throwers; he was a very valuable team member.”

Over his three years with the team, Kaczenski was a two-time Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference champion and earned the All-New England honors all three years. He finished as a runner up in both the 1981 and 1982 New England Championships, and holds the school record with a throw of 224 feet, 11 inches, which was also previously the MASCAC championship meet record.

“I am very honored,” Kaczenski said of the induction. “It makes my athletic career. I’ve got to credit my coaches because it’s a compilation of their talents that taught me how to throw.”

Kaczenski is not done throwing the javelin, either. Each spring he can be found at the Pioneer Valley Regional School practice, where he helps teach athletes, including his son Ed and daughter Sara. Ed, who did throw the javelin in high school, graduated from Pioneer this year and is headed to Western New England College in a couple of weeks. There he is slated to run on the school’s cross-country team. Sara will be a senior this year and will continue to throw the javelin at the school after finishing 20th in the District F & G Championships this past spring as a junior (she was the ninth-best underclassmen). Kaczenski said he plans to continue his work with the Pioneer throwers this spring.

The other place you can find Kaczenski is on the streets, where he can be found running 5-6 miles per day roughly six days a week. While running had been secondary to Kaczenski in high school and college, he said he now does it to stay in shape.

And in shape he has remained. Asked how he throws the javelin 30 years after graduating from Westfield State, Kaczenski laughed and responded:

“I can throw it about 200 feet, which is pretty good for a 53-year-old.”

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com.

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