By Dan Guttenplan
---- — BYFIELD — Like any winter track team that does not have a regulation indoor track at its practice facility, Triton has its own version of organized chaos every afternoon.
Although this year, it’s a different kind of chaos.
Joe Colbert has joined the boys and girls teams for practices for the first time since the inception of the boys team seven years ago. The change stems from the departure of longtime girls coach Jim Hounam, who stepped down after 10 seasons.
Colbert, who coaches the Triton boys and girls outdoor track teams, has modeled his training philosophy after what has proven successful for him in the spring. The boys and girls teams start each practice by stretching separately, and then they join together in groups for specialty workouts.
“The kids think it’s more fun,” Colbert said. “We really emphasize having a balance between working hard and having a good time. They really seem to enjoy the company, being together. I know it works around the league at other schools. Track is a hard sport, but it’s social too.”
Colbert’s coed training philosophy has paid dividends during the spring season. Between 2004 and 2007, the Triton boys team won three Cape Ann League titles. The girls team carried that momentum and won three state league championships from 2008 to 2010. The Triton boys collected another CAL title in 2011.
The immediate impact of joining the boys and girls teams is evident in the participation numbers. More than 80 athletes attended the opening practice, marking a high in the history of the program. Of the 40 girls, 22 are first-time indoor track athletes.
“We definitely have a lot of freshmen this year,” said returning All-CAL athlete Kerstin Darsney. “They’re coming out for the first time, and we’re getting a lot of positive feedback. They want to practice hard; we have people here late all the time.”
Combining the teams makes a coach’s job more difficult, as there are more athletes stationed at a particular station (high jump, hurdles, etc.) during practice. Colbert calls it a “good problem”, one which caused him to reorganize his coaching staff. He now has three assistants, each of whom has a particular strength. Boys captain Michael Theberte says it even brings out the best in the athletes.
“The coaches have been awesome,” Theberte said. “I don’t know how they do it, but they find a way to work with everyone. It’s not 1-on-1, but it’s as close as it’s ever been even though the groups are bigger.”
Theberte has also noticed that the veteran athletes have taken on some coaching duties this season.
“The real good thing is it’s not only a coach and athletes together,” Theberte said. “It’s boys working with girls, and girls working with boys. We share whatever we can if we notice someone needs help. We communicate with each other outside of school. It’s really helped a lot.”
The “one team” philosophy has also spurred greater inter-team competition. Although the girls and boys will never compete in the same events during meets, Darsney says it does not prevent them from racing in practice.
“Probably the speed at practice is the biggest change,” Darsney said. “The boys go faster, and the girls tend to want to pick it up too. Let’s beat the boys. It’s competition, but it’s fun competition.”