It started as a challenge on the front lawn of Dan Groman's family's home in Columbia five years ago, when his older brother and a friend were practicing throw-ins, seeing who could fling the soccer ball the farthest.

Groman placed the ball on the ground, took a running start and performed a front handspring as he grabbed the ball, hoping increased momentum would add distance.

"The ball didn't go anywhere and the nail on my middle finger was pulled completely back, and it hurt a lot because I got it caught in the ground," he said. "So the next time, I started by holding the ball. They had thrown the ball the normal way by taking a few steps and throwing it as hard as they could, but I ended up throwing it twice as far as they did."

The former gymnast hasn't stopped using that method since -- and the flip throw-in has made the 5-foot-9, 160-pound junior defenseman an important part of the Howard boys' soccer team's offense.

"In gymnastics, one of the first things you learn is the front handspring," Groman said. "That's exactly what I use to throw the ball in: Instead of having my hands spring me off the ground, I put my weight on the ball."

"He gives us a huge advantage because he can throw the ball 35 yards down the field and hit his spot," Howard Coach Brian Boussy said. "There are not a lot of players who can do what Dan does."

The flip throw-in must conform to the sport's laws for the throw-in: A player's feet must touch the ground as the ball is released directly over his or her head. Groman is one of the few players in the area -- others include Severna Park's Evan Richter and Whitman's Charlotte Rizzi -- who can perform the maneuver.

"If it's done properly, it's a huge advantage for us because it comes in like a dart and defenses have a hard time adjusting to it," said Severna Park Coach Bob Thomas, who said Richter's throw-ins have contributed to three goals. "You don't get someone who can do a throw-in like that very often, so I think we're very lucky."

Boussy was skeptical when several teammates told him of Groman's ability during a practice last season.

"I had Dan show me in front of everyone, and he threw it 30 yards," he said. "Then I was going to make my point by having him throw it again. Most of the time one goes 40 yards, then the next one goes 20 yards and the next one goes five yards straight up. But Dan threw a few more and kept hitting the same spot.

"So that was it."

The momentum that players create with the flipping motion can propel the ball farther than one thrown from a stationary position, but some coaches believe it is too risky or inconsistent.

"We've never had a player who could do it," said Whitman boys' coach Dave Greene. "And even if they could, I wouldn't let the player do it unless I was 100 percent convinced he would not break his neck."

"I find it comical when I see someone do a flip throw because they could probably throw the ball just as far if they did it the way most players throw the ball in," said Magruder boys' coach Scott Alexander. "I don't think flip throw-ins are very accurate. You don't know if the ball is going to go 30 or 40 yards, but if you threw the ball in, you can throw it right where you want it."

"We've never had anyone who has asked us to make them illegal, " said Ned Sparks, executive director of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association. "As long as the National Federation of High Schools allows it, so do we."

Groman has made a believer out of his coach, teammates and plenty of opponents.

"What Dan does is something I would never teach a player to do, and Dan made this team because he's a good all-around player, not because of how good his throw-ins are," Boussy said.

Groman takes nearly every throw-in on the opponent's half of the field, usually serving up crossing passes that create scoring opportunities.

But he doesn't want to be remembered for what he does with his hands on the field.

"It's like a double-edged sword because people see me and I'm the one who can throw the ball two or three times farther than anyone else," he said. "I want to be known as a defender who can shut down a player and as a defender who will play until I can't walk."

Above, Howard junior Dan Groman shows off his unusual method for making a throw-in: He takes a flip and uses the momentum to get the ball 30 or 40 yards downfield. Groman, a defender, takes nearly all of the throw-ins in the opponents' half of the field. He is one of the few players in the area to do the maneuver -- and throw the ball accurately. Left, Groman dribbles the ball upfield.