They spend five hours a day and endless amounts of energy for only one purpose: to launch the shot put and discus farther than any other high school athlete in Virginia.

They seem to spend as much time with each other as they do with their families. One might think that they are family, the way they tease and joke during practice.

"The main thing they have is camaraderie and pride, and they work at it," Mark Bendorf, who coaches the field events with Greg Sullivan at Mount Vernon High School, said about the group of nine boys and four girls specializing in the shot put and discus.

In the four years Bendorf has been at Mount Vernon, the program has progressed from a one-man team to the strongest weight squad in the region and possibly the state. The first step toward the state, however, is the Gunston District meet Saturday at Edison.

Three boys -- seniors John Rymiszewski, David Scott and Lance Doty -- and two girls -- junior Jean Burris and senior Julie Cash -- rank among the top five throwers in the region in the discus and all but Doty are in the top five in the shot put. Besides being very talented, the individuals gain great strength from the friendship and competition within the group.

Of the three boys, Rymiszewski is the only one who began throwing solely to become a top weight man. "When I threw my freshman year, I was the only thrower. Sophomore year, Coach Bendorf and I went out looking for throwers. So we tried to get some of the guys out who played football in the fall."

That year, he convinced Scott and Doty that competing in track and field would be a good way to train for football. "We did it to keep (weight) lifting," said Scott, a 6-foot-1, 230-pound running back. "It was a way I could keep in shape."

"After our sophomore year, four of our six throwers made first team all-State football," said Rymiszewski, a 5-10, 215-pound all-Met middle linebacker who will play football, compete in track and field and study sports medicine at Duke. "Winning the state title in football kind of made something out of us."

At that time, Cash was the only girl throwing the shot and discus. "It was all right," said Cash, who at 5-4, 160 pounds, can lift twice her weight. "I threw terrible. But I was having fun and I was doing my best."

Burris, 5-10, 200-pounds, joined the team last year and has been competition for Cash ever since. "We all get along real well," said Cash, defending district champion in the shot and discus. "We're good friends. We push each other. People say we look like a close group."

"I spend more time with these guys than I do with my family," said Doty, an all-Met offense tackle who plans to study accounting at James Madison next year.

"And the girls are part of the family, too," added 6-3, 210-pound senior Dan Mullins, an offensive and defensive tackle who hopes to fly jets in the Air Force.

The girls weren't always a part of the family. "Last year, we hated the girls something fierce," said Rymiszewski. "They thought they were better than they were. They wanted the recognition even though we'd been out there all along."

Said Doty: "We started respecting the girls this year in indoors when they started winning. We had a prejudice against them because they were girls in a guy's event."

"They practice with us," Rymiszewski added. "They do the same workout. It's just that their time standards aren't as hard. But they work just as hard."

Practice normally begins at 2:45 with stretching and drills like shuffles and hops. Then they work on throwing the shot and discus and practice form while Bendorf watches closely to spot errors in technique. Then there is some sort of competition, which can bring out emotions such as jealousy when you have such evenly matched talent.

"Jealous? All the time," Rymiszewski said. "There's always a practice when someone does real well. During practice, I say 'Lance is (Herndon's Tom) Huminik and I've got to beat him.' "

"We have a lot of competition among ourselves, but in the invitationals, we're back as a team," Doty said.

"They don't want just one guy to be good," Sullivan said, "They want everyone to be good."

Bendorf said his athletes try to throw for three hours, then have a running session that includes sprints and stadium steps. After that they spend one to two hours in the weight room before leaving for home.

"We usually do our homework during or between classes," said Scott, who is still deciding between Maryland or Marshall as far as college is concerned.

Said Rymiszewski: "We're not here because of Coach Bendorf but because we want to be here."