Dakota Sumpter/Auburn athletics
Marinette native Erin Perkins competes in the hammer throw for Auburn University during the SEC Championships on Friday in Knoxville, Tenn.
Dakota Sumpter/Auburn athletics

Marinette native Erin Perkins competes in the hammer throw for Auburn University during the SEC Championships on Friday in Knoxville, Tenn.

AUBURN, Ala. — Think Antonio Gates, Bo Jackson, Bob Hayes and Babe Didrikson Zaharias, athletes who excelled in one sport, then completely switched gears and excelled in another.

Erin Perkins has transitioned from an excellent jumper and hurdler to the third-place hammer thrower in the Southeastern Conference. Her amazing track and field journey began in Marinette, was refined in Winona, Minn., and has ascended to new heights at Auburn University.

Perkins holds the triple jump and 100-meter hurdle records at Marinette High School. After placing second at state in the 100 hurdles as a sophomore, Perkins left Marinette when her father, Evan, joined the track coaching staff at Winona State University. Evan was a Marinette Marine track standout who coached the Marine track program for years before leaving for Winona.

Erin originally planned to compete in the jumps or hurdles at Winona State. The summer before her senior year in high school, she was headed out to the track for a workout.

“Our throws coach (Mike Turgeon) just kind of nabbed her and said, ‘hey, try this,’” Evan recalled. “The cool thing is sometimes in life there’s a fork in the road. Hey, try the hammer.”

So she tried the hammer throw and found a new labor of love. After redshirting for a season she placed sixth at the NCAA Division II Nationals in the hammer throw for Winona State.

Last June, Turgeon left Winona State to become the head men’s and women’s track coach at Minnesota State-Mankato. Turgeon was a big reason why she competed in the throws at Winona.

“She always has envisioned going someplace,” Evan said. “I said, ‘this is a good chance for you to see what’s out there.’”

Auburn coach Pat Ebel was a track and field teammate of Evan’s at UW-La Crosse in the 1980s. Ebel served as head coach at UW-Oshkosh, where he shaped a women’s track and field dynasty and coached Marinette native Ellie Sitek, the daughter of Marinette’s longtime track coach John Sitek. Ebel went on to coach some phenomenal throwers at Penn State, then moved onto Auburn. 

One thing led to another with Ebel’s connections to coach Perkins.

“The next thing you know we visited (Auburn),” Evan said. “They made a scholarship offer.”

The SEC Outdoor Track and Field Championships was held last weekend at Tom Black Track on the University of Tennessee campus. Perkins had a career day, with her personal-best throw of 61.23 meters (200 feet, 10 inches) to claim the bronze medal in the hammer throw. Perkins’ mark was nearly two feet longer than her previous best and was the fifth-best throw in school history. She became the No. 3 hammer throw performer all-time at Auburn.

“She’s seeing the best of the best,” Evan Perkins said.

Erin placed second in the hammer throw this season at the prestigious Penn Relays. The hammer throw consists of a four-kilometer ball — the same size as the women’s shot put — attached to a wire length of about 38 inches. Throwers grip the handle, spin around and let it fly.

Erin seems to be better built for hurdles or jumps than throws because she does not have a large frame. As Turgeon explained to Evan, each of the throws has a different skill set.

“The hammer is uniquely different,” Evan said. “It’s all about speed.”

There’s still another twist to the Turgeon/Ebel/Perkins Marinette connection. Marinette’s Morgan Florek signed a letter of intent to compete in throws at Winona State. When Turgeon left for Mankato she followed him and is a freshman on the Mavericks team. At the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Championships last week, Florek placed eighth in the discus with a throw of 138 feet, 8 inches.