Forgive Richelle Tharp if she doesn’t want to limit herself.
After giving up her senior basketball season to help care for her ailing father, Les Bedilion, Tharp has emerged as a three-event point producer this spring for the Waynesburg girls track and field team.
Not bad for someone who was a javelin specialist a season ago, stuck behind state champion pole vaulter Marissa Kalsey and thrower Emily Phillips.
“I don’t have a problem with it,” Tharp said of handling multiple events. “Some people – I’m pretty sure my parents and coaches think I should probably get my javelin up – but right now I want to do all three.
“They want me to drop down to two, so I can improve my javelin, but right now I don’t really want to. I want to see where it takes me.”
So far, that has been a 9-0 regular season record and a Section 6-AA title for the Raiders. For Tharp, her success has netted a spot on the Waynesburg University track and field team.
Individually, Tharp was named the Field MVP at the South Fayette Invitational April 27 after winning the discus (97 feet, 1 1/2 inches) and javelin (119-2) and placing second in the shot put (33-9 1/4).
Tharp even has an outside chance of competing for WPIAL gold, though she’ll need a decent bump in all three events.
“She has a chance to qualify for states in all three,” Waynesburg coach Jeff Coss said. “Since Emily graduated, she had to pick up those points that Emily was getting before.”
Tharp has become the lone, veteran voice on a throwing group that includes all freshmen and two sophomores.
Such maturity was on display when Tharp and her younger sister, Jackie, decided to give up basketball when learning that Les had esophageal cancer.
“My mom (Jayme Bedilion) was the president of the basketball boosters, so it was a lot of work going to our games and running everything and making sure we had buses, clothes, stuff like that,” Tharp said. “So Jackie and I decided to do away with basketball for one year, my mom could step down, and we could all be with my dad.”
Les Bedilion’s cancer has disappeared – a rib and three-fourths of his esophagus were removed, Richelle said – and so has Richelle Tharp’s role in the sizable shadows of Kalsey and Phillips.
Now, it’s her show.
“I’ve seen her mature a little bit more,” Coss said. “In the past, nerves could get the best of her, but before the South Fayette meet, she came up to me and said she’s going to sweep the whole thing.
“Before, she would have been too nervous to say something like that. It’s just maturity.”
In order to become more diverse, Tharp first had to fix her technique, specifically in the discus. This meant adjusting her release point.
“She has a small hand, and when she’d throw, it would come out of the back of her hand,” Waynesburg throwing coach John Lipscomb said. “For a right-hander, it should rotate clockwise, but for her it would rotate counterclockwise. She would lose a lot of distance by releasing it the wrong way.”
A lot of distance? Try 30 feet.
Tharp said her average throw jumped from around 60 to 90 feet in one week. She’s inching closer and closer to 100 feet, too.
“I’ve thrown discus and shot put from seventh grade up through last year the same exact way: I palmed it,” Tharp said. “I have a lot of upper-body strength and can chuck it pretty far, but getting a perfect release and having it come out of the front of my hand – my pointer finger and not my pinky – was where my problem was.”
Tharp has even taken what she has learned and coached some of the younger throwers, helping to improve their technique.
And while there’s no doubt Tharp could benefit by throwing herself 100 percent at the javelin, she’s having too much fun with the other events – the Raiders even had Tharp high jump once – to limit herself to one thing.
“At first I wasn’t very good at them, and I didn’t have any interest in (the other events),” Tharp said. “Now that I’m getting it, I’m really enjoying all three of them, and I don’t want to put one of them down.”