Forty years, eight U.S. presidents, generations of change in the world — athletic and real — and countless efforts.

Through it all, Chip Kell’s record still stands.

As a junior at Avondale High School in Atlanta, Kell won the Class 3A state shot put title with a throw of 66 feet, 7 inches on May 21, 1966, at Grady High School.

Today it’s the second-oldest track and field record listed — the oldest field-event mark — by the Georgia High School Association, among both boys and girls, surpassed only by Howard Adams of Rossville’s 200-meter mark of 1962. Outside of Adams and Kell, the next oldest records were set in 1975.

Kell, who also played football at Avondale, has a long list of athletic honors that includes membership in the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, two first team All-America honors as an offensive lineman at the University of Tennessee — where he helped the Volunteers to Southeastern Conference titles in football (1969) and track (1968) — and three SEC titles in the shot put. When the College Football Hall of Fame announced its newest class of members last week, Kell’s name was among the 13 honorees.

Yet setting a record that has stood for so long against so many attempts is special in its own right to Kell.

“It’s up there with the two hall of fame things and the All-America stuff,” he said. “It was special because I put so much time and work into it. Any time you do that, it becomes very important to you.”

And despite several sporting endeavors laying claim to his time as a young athlete — in ninth grade, Kell played football, basketball and baseball while competing in track and field, where he also threw the discus — he never neglected the shot put.

A new passion

His devotion to the event started the summer before seventh grade, a full year before he began high school and was able to compete against others.

On a family vacation to the mountains, Kell’s father, Curtis “Jug” Kell, a coach at Atlanta’s George High School at the time, tossed out an eight-pound ball, the standard weight for eighth-grade competition.

“See what you can do with that,” he told his son.

After a brief lesson on form, Kell made his first-ever attempt. His father measured and discovered the distance was better than the city record.

Inspired and intrigued, Kell spent the next year practicing alone, using a ring his father set up in the family’s back yard to perfect the “glide” technique.

“I liked doing it,” he said. “I’d compete against myself. I’d have pretend meets and be three different people, try to beat the other one’s throw.”

He set a national record for eighth-graders under the guidance of coach Mel Atkins at Atlanta’s Murphy High, throwing 65-4 3/4 with an eight-pound ball during his first year of competition. As a ninth-grader, he won the National Junior Olympics in St. Paul, Minnesota, the same year he finished second at the state meet for the first and last time — Kell won three straight shot put titles to close his high school career.

He held “probably five or six national records” during his high school career, Kell said, but the state mark and its endurance shine exceptionally bright.

Aggravation for motivation

Looking back, Kell recalled he expected to compete well that day — and when something went wrong at school, everything went right at the state meet.

Kell’s preparation the week prior to the meet was standard issue: throw hard several days in advance, then back off two days before to concentrate on form and technique.

However, Kell remembers being particularly emotional heading into the meet. Upset by some “personal issues” — what specifically, he couldn’t remember, venturing that perhaps he had broken up with a girlfriend — and “very irritable” during school, he turned his anger into motivation for that Saturday’s competition.

“I just knew that I was ready and I was going to throw it as hard as I could,” Kell said. “I knew I had my adrenaline right.”

Despite those stirrings, Kell was able to complete his normal routine — some jogging, a lot of stretching, form practice, tosses with a heavier ball, then a standard — and took his turn in the ring.

He would make seven throws that day. The first one was more than good enough.

“I caught that one just right,” Kell said. “It set in my hand just right, the release was perfect, I had good speed across the circle. I knew it was going when I threw it.”

Kell said he had other throws in the 64-to-65-foot range that day, substantially better than the runner-up and third-place finisher’s efforts, neither of which was higher than the low 60s.

He kept competing hard, knowing that having as many quality throws as possible could prove key, though it turned out not to matter this time.

Not after the big one.

“I was excited,” Kell said of his reaction to the measurement. “It was the best throw of my life.”

Exceptional preparation

He repeated the following year at state, but was a bit fatigued after having already competed and placed second in the discus and didn’t come close to his record — he failed to hit 66 feet again all year. He also missed, Kell said, the motivation of the seniors who had finished second and third to him the previous year.

Kell’s success continued into college, where he made the leap to competing with a 16-pound ball, four pounds heavier than the high school standard. He won the SEC indoor title in 1968 and both the indoor and outdoor titles the following season. He set school records in the outdoor (56-0 1/2) and indoor (58-7) at Tennessee that stood for two and five years, respectively.

Throughout his coaching career, Kell has tried to pass on his knowledge and appreciation of the shot put to others, even giving private lessons — free of charge — to those who asked. Yet many of those, he said, have lacked the perseverance and devotion he credited for helping him claim the record. Some of them quit the event altogether.

And that’s why Kell believes his mark lives.

“There’s no doubt about it, there’s kids out there now with the physical ability to do it,” he said. “The dedication and motivation are not out there.”

Since 3A was the state’s largest classification in 1966, Kell is listed as the record-holder for both 5A and 4A. His throw is farther than the marks in the other three classes as well.

While GHSA state records are recorded only among the attempts made at the state meet each spring, Kell’s performance stands out among all challenges. According to records listed on — which include competitions other than the state meet — Kell’s throw is more than two feet better against the next registered effort, Lakeside-Evans’ Reese Hoffa’s 64-3 1/2 at the 1997 state meet.

Still, Kell doesn’t believe his mark will last forever. And that’s OK with him.

“I’d be happy for him,” he said of a potential record-breaker. “I’ve had my time with it and they always say records are made to be broken. Sooner or later, somebody will come by that takes it serious and wants to do it.”

Of course, he wouldn’t be letting go of all the honor if the record was broken. He might even drop a casual reminder to his successor about how long the mark would need to stand to be in the same league.

“It’s kind of like two records in one,” Kell said. “If somebody broke it next year, I’ve held it 40 years. You’ve got 39 years to go.”

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