Staff of six leads powerhouse track program
Editor’s Note: This is the first piece in a three-part series on the spring sports coaching staffs at Rugby High School. Part 2 will feature the golf staff on April 5 and part 3 will feature the baseball staff on April 12.
Track and field may not draw the crowds and adoration of the average sports fans, but at Rugby High School it draws the highest number of athletes.
Many athletes take to the track to improve their speed and abilities for other sports. Some take to the field events to increase strength. Some just like the competition and eye individual state titles with hopes of bolstering the team’s chances of taking home hardware each year.
In Class B track and field, there are few programs that rival the continued success of RHS. Much of the credit goes to a coaching staff of six, who value each other on an equal slate and share responsibilities between the boys and girls teams at the varsity and junior high levels.
“It’s really unique,” said Scott Grochow, varsity boys head coach. “We talk to people from other schools and we get a lot of questions about how we do it. Simply, it’s a bunch of coaches with the same philosophies and we get along really well. They don’t care if they’re coaching boys or girls.”
The approach trickles down to the athletes, who train together despite gender and age differences. The proof in the strategy is in the numbers. The boys have won three state titles in Grochow’s 27 years at the helm, with the most recent coming in 2010. The Panthers took second in 2012 and 2009 are a seldom outside the top five.
The girls won state titles in 2011 and 2009 and were runners-up in 2007 and 2008. Head coach Bill Jansen took over the girls program 16 years ago. They also routinely produce individual contenders and a top-5 team.
“People always seem amazed by the amount of kids we have,” Jansen said, “and I’m always thinking we should have more. We’ve really kept our numbers high even as class sizes have dropped a little.”
Both head coaches credit the coaches of other sports, who encourage their athletes to participate in track as a way of improving conditioning and skills that transfer through seasons.
“I really think the other coaches are working for our program and we’re working for theirs,” Jansen said. “You will become a better athlete here and apply it to what you want to do with that other sport.”
Grochow competed in shot put and discus at Anamoose High School and Minot State University. He works closely with the sprinters, hurdlers and relay teams.
Jansen competed in javelin at Valley City High School and then-Jamestown College. Also the cross country coach, he works closely with the distance runners, pole vaulters and javelin throwers.
“They have built such a successful program over the years,” said Jessica Fritz, an assistant coach with the boys team. “People want to do track because they know they’ll do well.”
Fritz was a senior at RHS when Jansen took over the girls team and was eager to join her former coaches when the a position opened three years ago.
“Since I’ve been back in town, they knew I was interested in helping,” she said. “They are phenomenal coaches and great emotional leaders. Track can be difficult here. It can rain for 13 days and snow for the next 14 days, but they make it fun for the kids to be there even when working hard.”
Fritz was a thrower at RHS and Valley City State University. She focuses on coaching the throwers.
Steve Mueller is the third-most tenured coach in the program and is an assistant with the girls team. Mueller is in his 13th year with the Panthers and competed in jumping events at Oak Grove Lutheran High School. He focuses on coaching the jumpers.
“It’s such a great coaching atmosphere because everybody has their own specialities,” he said. “We all help each other out and nobody steps on toes. Everybody is open to ideas and getting the kids together and where they need to be.”
Leading the junior high girls team is Brenda Bernhardt, who is in her seventh year with RHS. Bernhardt focuses on sprinters and hurdlers. She grew up a multisport athlete in Tolley, where track and field wasn’t offered. Bernhardt said the coaching staff is always looking to improve and the coaches draw off each other’s experiences and knowledge.
“Our head coaches are great about going to clinics and educating themselves on new ideas,” she said. “We’re always looking at better conditioning.”
The one import on the staff is Towner teacher Dan Seykora, the junior high boys coach. Seykora brings a group of Towner athletes to Rugby each day for practice and assists all levels in the jumping events.
Seykora is in this sixth year with the program and participated in track at Bottineau High School. In his first season with the Panthers, the girls won the state title.
“I was blessed to be asked to be a part of the program,” Seykora said. “They really know how to push their athletes without overdoing it. The goal is to earn a trophy as a team and we always seem to be in the running.”
RHS figures to be in the running to place as a team on both the boys and girls side at state this spring. Grochow said student leadership also plays a major role and he sees his athletes mirror their coaches’ examples of working together while being leaders.
“The team understands we don’t need it be an individual thing and they follow the lead,” Grochow said Tuesday. “Today’s a great example. We have teacher-parent conferences and we basically put some kids in charge. We give them a responsibility and it’s done. It’s been really, really good.”?Grochow’s quick to credit a slew of former RHS coaches for setting the program up for success. Among them are Denise Myhre, Gary Myhre, Charles Hanneman and Brian Lenzmeier.
“I’ll still walk across the hall and ask Denise for advice,” Grochow said. “A lot of success is from those guys and what they started back then.”
The Panthers opened the season on Friday at the state’s indoor meet at North Dakota State University.
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