Danny Byrne 'Puts' Himself Into Select Company

Kings Park senior Danny Byrne qualified for his first state championship during his junior winter track season. He slipped his way into the competition, edging out the fourth place competitor and earning an at large berth. But he was not satisfied.

"After the state qualifier, I knew I had work to do," he said. "My coach and I put a lot of work in and it really worked out for me."

That is when Byrne had his breakthrough. At the Long Island Elite meet, just one week prior to the state championship, he threw a two-and-a-half foot personal best, 54-feet, 7.75-inches. That was the confidence boost he needed going into the state meet.

"I was really confident going in," he said. "I am so consistent in general, so I thought I might be able to pop one and I did."

After only placing third at his own qualifier, Byrne essentially equaled his personal best from the Elite meet at states to place third overall. He was now officially on the map as one of the state's best.

Byrne followed up his winter with another very solid season, going undefeated during the invitational season, his only loss coming at the state championship in Syracuse, placing fifth overall. That wasn't good enough.

"I wanted to build on what I did in the winter and I wasn't really satisfied," Byrne said. "I wanted to get to 57 or 58 (feet). So I knew I just needed to keep working hard."

Byrne threw a personal best 56-3.5 at the Section 11 State Qualifier that spring, his best throw to date, but not necessarily what he wanted. His focus shifted to this winter.

Following a very serious weight lifting and plyometric routine, to go along with a health and nutrition plan, along with some running, Byrne prepared for this winter with one idea in mind.

"My goal was to win the state title," he said. "I thought if I do even more than I did last year, that meet should be mine if I work really hard. And that's what it turned out to be."

Byrne's fifth throw at Ocean Breeze was a toss of 58-feet, 10.5-inches, a personal best that vaulted him into the lead and was not topped the rest of the way by any of his fellow competitors in the finals.

Byrne had his state championship.

"It didn't really hit me until the car ride home," he said. "I was amazed. It was something I was always dreaming about. It was an amazing feeling once it set in."

Byrne has added his name to a powerful legacy that exists on Long Island when it comes to throwers.

"Long Island always puts out good throwers," former St. Anthony's great Walter Henning said. "There are consistently guys throwing close to sixty feet."

Henning would know. The outdoor state record holder in the event has a legacy of his own. A seven-time national champion in high school, Henning went on to become a three-time NCAA champion, seven-time All-American, and six-time SEC Champion at LSU.

Locally, his greatest impact may have been on the reconfiguration of the Armory, which had to spend tens of thousands of dollars to upgrade the throws area to contain Henning's performances in the weight throw without endangering passers-by.

"It was really cool to have them put in the money and be able to continue to throw there," Henning said. "And then it gave (new national record holder) Conor (McCullough of California) the opportunity to throw 93 feet there a few years later too."

Henning always seemed to see the big picture down the road. The San Antonio police officer is approaching his sixth year on the force, and would not change anything that he experienced.

"I really wouldn't change anything from high school. My coaches were great. I had a really good throws coach in John McCree and a really good hammer coach, Marty Engel," Henning said. "The only thing I would've changed is to have St. Anthony's renovate everything before I left. The new facilities they have are unreal. I wish I had those resources then!"

Henning is referring to the recent renovations done at the school, which now hosts a number of indoor meets in Suffolk County. He recognizes that his success and those responsible for it led to experiences he will not soon forget.

"I didn't really have the normal high school experience," Henning said. "I had the privilege of having a lot more opportunities than most, traveling all over and making contacts with a lot of people. I had great relationships with guys in high school and kept those connections."

"Keep those connections because you never know how it can help you out down the road."

Henning referenced the throwing fraternity, one which Byrne recognizes that he is a part of and has already made those connections himself. Despite being a state champion, Byrne goes into most local meets with a rival his equal in Chris Fasano of Sachem North, who has thrown over 58 feet himself.

"We've become very good friends," Byrne said of Fasano. "He's just like me. We both work hard. We throw together about four times a week. In competition, one of us will put one out there and the other will follow and do the same. He's been a really good training partner for me."

Byrne spoke very highly of Fasano as well as others, such as former state champion Ben Bonhurst of Smithtown West and Corey Murphy of Longwood.

"I know a lot of these guys very well and it feels amazing to consider myself among these throwers because there is such an elite history on long island and it feels so good to be a part of that legacy."

That legacy includes athletes such as former shot put record holder Ed Ellis of Patchogue-Medford, former hammer record holder John Paul Smolenski of Kellenberg, Bonhurst, Murphy, and Henning amongst others. The state records in most throwing events have made their home in Long Island for about 25 of the last 35 years.

The road was not always easy for Byrne. He is especially thankful for the support group he has had along the way, with a focus on his parents, Coach Bill Hiney, the Kings Park School District, as well as Heidi Bonhurst.

"They've always been there throughout the journey," he said.

So how does one follow up a state championship season?

"I'm working harder than ever," Byrne said. "I'm lifting five to six days a week, throwing the same amount, and working on my technique."

"My goal is to throw 61 or 62 (feet) in the spring."

As for what Henning would advise in young throwers, it is a pretty simple concept.

"Don't be afraid to ask for help," Henning said. "The throwing community is always looking out for each other and working together. We all want to win, but we want to win when everybody is at their best. Don't think you know everything. Be willing to look for advice on anything to improve yourself."

That does not seem to be a problem for Byrne going forward. He will be attending Notre Dame College in the fall, a Division II school in Ohio and will throw there on an almost full track and field scholarship.

"I believe my biggest strength is my work ethic and my positivity about the sport," he said. "I consider myself a student of the game and am always willing to learn about the sport."

Having lost a little bit of touch with the New York track scene in recent years, Henning was happy to hear about Byrne's success. A native of Kings Park himself, the 2007 graduate was excited to receive that news.

"I don't really know what has been going on there recently to be honest," Henning said. "But to hear about a kid from Kings Park having that kind of success now is really cool."

And as for how Byrne is handling this success and new title of state champion?

"I don't look at myself as anything different or anything better than my competition," he said. "I try to not let it get to my head. That can lead to overconfidence and mistakes. I'm just there to throw and compete."