Del Norte High track and field has enjoyed success in recent years — the girls have won the last three Humboldt-Del Norte League championships — but has struggled with numbers. A core group of approximately 20 participants last season saw its numbers dwindle due to graduation.
So Warriors head coach Samuel Escobar went on a recruiting spree. He approached kids competing in fall and winter sports about joining the track and field team in the spring. He came to an accord with head football coach Ray Rook and head volleyball coach Debbie Lorenzi — football and volleyball players participate in offseason conditioning workouts and also take up track and field disciplines.
When Escobar held his first track and field practice, on Feb. 4, approximately 70 kids showed up at Mike Whalen Field.
“At the first practice, Sam was asking them, ‘So who’s quitting?’” said Jared Ratliff, a volunteer throws coach and mathematics teacher at Del Norte High. “No hands went up. We’ve had next to no attrition.”
The official roster carries 67 names — 35 girls and 32 boys. Fifty-one of the rostered athletes are freshmen and sophomores, the building blocks of any program.
The numbers, in Escobar’s paradigm, are both a blessing and a managerial challenge. He and volunteer assistants Ratliff (throws), George Hartman (distances and high jump), Fred Victor (long and triple jump), Dave Bokor (pole vault), Katie Hunter (distances) and Johnny Rowe (long jump, triple jump, throws) are often spread thin teaching their events to newcomers at practice. Escobar has struggled to come up with enough uniforms for all his athletes.
“It’s chaotic at times,” Escobar noted with a smile. “But it’s a good problem to have.”
Del Norte junior Kaitlyn Clemann, a volleyball player in the fall and basketball player in the winter, is one such athlete taking advantage of track and field as a conditioning tool. Clemann, mostly legs at 5-foot-10, has been learning the high jump and hurdles, Escobar’s coaching specialty.
“I’ve never even watched a track meet,” Clemann admitted.
Carlo Soldaini, a senior exchange student from Italy who competed with the Warriors’ boys soccer team in the fall, is trying his hand at the long and triple jumps and the 100-meter dash.
“I have fun here,” Soldaini said. “It’s a good way to get in shape for the Italian soccer season when I come back.”
Sean DeArman, a senior who became an integral member of the varsity boys basketball team in his first season at any sport, is trying his hand at hurdles — Escobar’s influence carrying weight — the high jump and the discus throw.
“(Warriors sophomore) Chad (Bell) brought me out here,” DeArman said. “I’ve done (track and field) before, I just haven’t (in high school) because of problems ... and injuries.”
With enthusiastic participants, the challenge for Escobar and the coaches then becomes introducing them to the nuances of the events, matching physical familiarity with technique and nomenclature. Del Norte’s returning athletes, like seniors Katelynn Rowe, Dalton Alexandre and Adan Rodriguez and the sophomore Bell, are stepping up and communicating these aspects of events to their peers.
“They have been good leaders out there,” Escobar said. “They help out with drills. They take over.”
Rowe is the lone senior girl on the Warriors’ squad, the reigning league champion at 400 meters and a strong hurdler and relay runner. Sophomore Kayla Costello, another White Star performer in the relays, looks to take a step forward in the 100-meter and 300-meter hurdles, her best individual events.
Middle-distance runners Guadalupe Gonzalez and Crystal Clower and throwers Kira Standring and Victoria Cochran are among Del Norte’s other top returners.
Bell enjoyed a fantastic freshman season in 2012, earning White Stars in the high jump and long jump, and figures to be one of the best sprinters in the HDN League this season. Rodriguez, Alexandre, senior Ku Xiong and sophomore Samuel Aragones are among the few returning boys who made a consistent impact last season.
“The guys should be a lot better this year,” Bell said.
The curtain goes up on the 2013 season on Tuesday, when the Warriors travel to Brookings for the Brookings-Harbor Icebreaker meet at 4:30 p.m.
For much of the Del Norte track team, this will be their first real participation in a meet of any magnitude, let alone their first high school meet. Perhaps the hard work put in over the past five weeks will amount to something after all.
Count Clemann, the volleyball and basketball player, among the early believers.
“When I started, I didn’t know how hard (the work would be),” she said. “It really is hard. It’s getting me in shape.”