Sustaining success in any high school sports program is never easy. In fact, sustaining success is one of the toughest jobs a high-school coach has.
Many formulas have been concocted over the years to build a successful program and maintain that success, yet few programs can truly say they've found the answer.
The Burlington Central boys track program is one that has most definitely found the right answer, and the consistency of excellence that has come with that is unparalleled by any boys track program and by very few programs in any sport in the Fox Valley area.
The Rockets have dominated the Big Northern Conference, winning nine league titles (2 straight) since Mike Schmidt took over the program he once ran for 18 years ago. So dominant in the BNC the past five years, the conference discontinued its indoor meet after BC won all five that were held.
They have six sectional titles and finished second at state as a team in 2001, losing out to Harrisburg by a single point. They were fifth in 2002.
But track, while a team sport in many ways, is also an individual sport and the Rockets' success as individuals is staggering.
Since Schmidt took over in 1996, Central has brought home 25 individual medals from state competition, as well as seven relay medals. Last year's 3,200-meter relay team became the third state title relay group under Schmidt and fifth in program history. The Rockets have had one individual champion under Schmidt, Chris Wesson in the 800 in 2004.
When you include medals won under former coach Jim Woodward, who Schmidt was an assistant for 4 years, the number jumps to 31 individual medals and nine relay awards, a significant number because it includes the 1994 title in the 1,600 relay, the 1995 crown in the 400 relay and the 1995 championships by Joe Hosey in the 100 and 200 dashes.
"Kids want to be part of a winner," Schmidt says. "But in track you really have to recruit because kids aren't coming through a feeder system. You have to find them through other sports and gym class and hope they see what you've done in the past. Going downstate, having that experience, and competing for a state championship is a good selling point."
Just getting the athletes out for the team isn't enough, though, Schmidt has come to realize.
The next step is having a good coaching staff, one that can specialize training as track is a specialized sport.
"Once you have the kids it's a matter of having a good coaching staff," Schmidt said.
And he's put together a staff that includes some of his former athletes as well as longtime and knowledgeable coaches.
Included in that group is Jon Pollock, the captain of BC's 1998 team who took fourth at state in the 800 that year and went on to run at Carthage College, one of the best DIII track schools in the country. Pollock is in his 11th year as a Rocket assistant.
"Jon helped take the 2003 4 x 8 team to the state title and he was a big help with Wesson winning the state title," said Schmidt, who is in his 22nd year as a part of the coaching staff and whose last 17 teams (girls basketball, boys basketball and boys track) have won a conference, regional or sectional title.
Schmidt also relies heavily on the coaching of Dave Burner (jumpers, pole vault), Ryan Mains (1998 grad), Matt Waite (ran at Aurora University) and Brenton Martinak, a member of the 2001 state runner-up team. Also on the staff is longtime area coach Tom Miller, now in his 41st year of track. He's helping out this season with the hurdlers and throwers, something he knows a little about having coached state champion throwers Matt and Pat Whalen at Jacobs.
"It's great to have these kids come back and coach," Schmidt said. "We try to create that family atmosphere and that's how you breed success. And Tom has been great for us. He's been a big part of our success the past eight years."
Senior Ryan Olsen, a member of last year's 1,600 relay team that finished second at state, agrees the coaching staff is where Central's success starts.
"I think our secret is our work ethic and how our coaches run our practices," Olsen said. "Everybody's happy and we want to show up. They always let us know how we can improve and give us drills we can do to get better."
Olsen says maintaining the Central tradition is important to he and his teammates as well.
"We talk about it all the time," he said. "It gives us motivation to get better."
Schmidt also has a luxury some coaches don't, and that's a better-than-good relationship with the Central girls program and its head coach, former Dundee-Crown standout Vince Neil.
"Vince was a member of the boys' staff and he has a ton of experience," Schmidt said. "We all work well together."
Another important part of the Rockets' success is not being shy about running against bigger schools.
"It's something I figured out about 10 years ago," Schmidt said. "You have to get to the best competitions possible. We run against all the big boys as much as possible. We have a good reputation and they like to schedule us because they know they're going to get good competition. We might not win a meet until conference but our objective is to push you as much as possible. In track, if you're chasing people and continually being pushed, it makes you better."
The 2013 Rockets have a lot to live up to after last year's success at state but Schmidt says the standards remain the same -- to win conference, win the sectional and take as many athletes downstate as possible.
"That's what we're striving for," Schmidt said. "We expect to win conference every year. That's important to us. We think we're going to be good again. We have a lot of speed."
Schmidt then goes on to talk about freshman Jason Berango, a young man who already has broken all the program's records in the jumps and who Schmidt predicts will become a very good sprinter as well.
"He's a great kid who is going to be the future of this program." Schmidt said.
A program that knows what it takes to be successful year in and year out.
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