GREENFIELD — As a Pee Wee baseball player, Brett Burkhart was in a league of his own.
After rifling a ball from the center field fence to home plate without a hop, Burkhart, who was still growing into his frame, stuck out like a sore thumb from most kids his age. And his twin brother, Brian, who caught that missile from the outfield, did too.
“The first time I ever threw a shot put was because of my mom (Linda),” Brett said. “I guess she thought if I had the power to throw a baseball like that, I should just indulge myself into throwing.
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“I do remember her saying, ‘you have to try that.’”
The Burkhart family had finally found its niche — throwing. And once the twins were old enough to attend high school, no one else stood a chance.
At Greenfield-Central, Brett and Brian, who graduated in 1988, dominated nearly every sport they played. Football was their first love, but each excelled in their own event in track and field.
Brian pole vaulted for three season before tearing his ACL and later joined his brother, who threw shot put and discus all through high school.
“It actually worked out pretty well,” Brian said. “We both ended up going to state that year.”
And nearly 30 years later, Brett’s name is still atop the shot put record book at Greenfield-Central.
Eventually deciding to play football at The University of Indianapolis on scholarship, though, both brother’s futures took an unexpected turn after a year on the gridiron.
Brian, who currently serves as the assistant throwing coach at Greenfield-Central, decided football may not be his best option and found a new hobby — or a familiar one.
As a member of the Greyhounds track and field team, Brian would become a three-time Division II All-American in the hammer throw. His senior season he won the Division II National Championship.
Back on the football field, Brett tore the rotator cuff in his throwing arm his sophomore season and was forced to hang up his jersey for good — his football jersey, anyway.
“If he could become an All-American, so could I,” Brett, the older twin, thought before joining the track team full time.
He was right. Brett, who is the throwing coach at Eastern Hancock, would follow in his brother’s footsteps and become a Division II All-American in the discus throw. There are few things the Burkhart’s can’t throw and throw well.
Their athleticism has trickled down to their children, too, as Hannah Burkhart of Greenfield-Central and Reece Burkhart of Eastern Hancock are beginning to make a name for themselves in the throwing world.
Reece, a junior, is coming off a stellar sophomore campaign in which he finished second overall in the discus throw at the Mt. Vernon Sectional to earn a regional berth. At the North Central Regional a week later, Reece, also a standout linebacker on the football field, would finish eighth overall.
And this season at the Hancock County meet, Reece took home two blue ribbons in both throwing events.
“Reece just has a knack for it,” Brett said. “He just loves it and eats it up.”
Hannah, a freshman, is already one of the Cougars’ top-three throwers in both the shot put and discus. At the county meet, she finished second in the discus and followed it up with a fourth-place showing at conference.
But how did the Burkhart family become so strong, agile and tough?
“We grew up on a farm and were working from day one,” Brian, 46, said. “We were always doing something. It was your typical farm family. I don’t know if that had anything to do with it or not.”
Added Brett, “We were out in the fields picking up rocks every day. It’s not normal weight room type of stuff, but people are doing that now. It was a great way to grow up.”
That ingrained toughness has helped Reece pick up an early offer from Harding University in Arkansas, a Division II school. But in his mind, getting to the next level will take an added concentration.
Although powerful, the Burkharts were not blessed with shear height or size — a key attribute of some of the nation’s top track and field throwers.
“Sometimes I look around and realize how much bigger everyone is,” Reece admitted, who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 190 pounds. “I just need to keep my focus more in the moment.”
And Hannah, who’s mom, Mary (Watkins), was a successful sprinter for the Cougars in high school, is just scratching at the surface of her potential.
“Hannah has a great work ethic and a fierce competitive spirit,” Greenfield-Central girls track coach Jan Hacker said. “She has a bright future ahead of her.”
Although, in reality, she’s years ahead of girls her age. Hannah started throwing in the fifth grade and with her uncle’s and father’s help, which she hears at various meets or at family get-togethers. She has been able to progress at an unusually quick pace. Although, like her cousin Reece, she’s keen on cleaning up areas of weakness.
“Whenever they (Brian and Brett) say anything to me, and I’m not looking at them, it sounds like the same person,” Hannah joked. “It’s helped me go forward (the technique practice) and helped me compete more. They’ve helped me a lot with the transition to high school.
“In my technique, I need to train my muscles to hit center more. I usually end up on the side of the ring when that happens.”
But if history and family genes are any indication of her future, Hannah should be just fine.