On the Friday before the start of spring break, Central Valley boys track and field coach Chuck Bowden took his Bears to East Wenatchee for a nonleague meet with Eastmont.
The weather forecast for that day wasn’t exactly inviting, he said. It called for rain followed by more rain.
“Once we got there the rain stopped and the kids got out and loosened up,” Bowden explained. “It was actually warmer there than what we were used to at home and my young throwers suddenly found that they were throwing farther than they were used to in practice and were just having a good time.
“That’s when I dropped a classic Bowdenism on them: If you can make it until the first warm meet of the season, you’re hooked.”
CV and the rest of the Spokane Valley still is looking forward to that first warm track and field meet of the season – and it can’t get here too soon.
“If you stop and look at the schedule, once we get back from spring break there’s just four weeks left in the regular season and we’ll be into district championships,” East Valley girls coach Shane Toy said. “The cold weather has us a little behind where we would normally like to be, especially with our throwers – our kids doing the shot put, discus and the javelin.”
“I don’t think people necessarily understand how short the spring season is,” Bowden added. “You have basically 10 weeks, and you lose one week in there to spring break.”
But what the Valley has lacked in good weather, it more than makes up for with the brain trust that teaches the three throwing events at East Valley, West Valley, CV and University. In fact, no region in the state boasts the résumé of the Valley’s track coaches specializing in the throws – a résumé that grew even longer after the final retirement of long-time East Valley and West Valley coach Howard Dolphin, the dean of the Valley’s track coaches.
Chuck Dunning has helped East Valley produce a long line of successful throwers, as have Alan and Elizabeth Wardsworth – the area’s leading teachers of the hammer throw – between CV, where Alan is a key assistant coach, and University, where Elizabeth is head girls coach.
Bowden’s deep passion for the throwing events dates back to middle school, when he was first handed a discus and was told to throw it.
“I was a baseball kid and the son of a basketball coach, so I grew up in the gym,” he recalls. “But I was fascinated by the disc. I started working on it in junior high and by the time I got to high school, I made the toughest decision of my life: I gave up playing high school baseball to do track and field and work on the discus and the javelin.”
Bowden’s long list of successful throwers at CV includes Craig Kent, the state champion in both the shot put and discus in 2003 and the school’s record holder in the shot put, discus and javelin.
Dolphin’s Spokane Valley career started at Otis Orchards High School and moved to East Valley in 1961. His teams won seven league championships and placed at state 10 times – including the state championship in 1979. He produced 19 individual state champions, including high school All-Americans Gene Lorenzen, Mike Shill and Vinnie Pecht, and a good number of his former students went on to coach track themselves. Dolphin retired in 1988 after 27 years at East Valley, then was coaxed into focusing on the shot put and discus at West Valley by his son-in-law, then-WV track coach Jim McLachlan.
Dolphin was inducted into the Washington State Track and Field Coaches Association Hall of Fame as part of its inaugural class in 1995, along with area track coaching legends Jack Moobery and Tracy Walters, both former head coaches at Rogers, and Art Frey, former head coach at Lewis and Clark. McLachlan joined him in the hall in 2007.
Although he threatened to retire many times over the years, he finally hung up his whistle after the 2010-’11 season, ending his 50-year coaching career.
Boys track coach Vic Wallace talked Gary Baskett, himself inducted into the state track and field hall of fame in 2001, into filling Dolphin’s shoes as throws coach. Baskett had an unprecedented 159-0 record over 17 years as head track coach at Mead, then had 20 NCAA national qualifiers and eight All-Americans over four years coaching throwers at Whitworth.
“I would even go so far as to say that no coach in the state has done more for the throws than Gary has over his career,” Bowden said. “No offense and no disrespect to anyone else in the sport here in the Valley, but I think he’s the greatest coach we’ve had in the state.
“I think he could easily have had success at the Division I college level, but he just was so good at working with high school kids and I think he just loves working with young kids.”
Having such a wealth of coaching knowledge can’t always make up for a lack of good throwing weather, however.
“We are behind right now, there’s no doubt about it,” Bowden said. “There’s no way you can go and work in the gym on the shot put or the discus, although we are well on our way toward remedying that at CV. You need to get out there and get nice and warm and loose.
“But you know, I think we make more out of it than the kids do. We had our first meet for freshmen and our JV at Ferris and it poured down rain the whole day and it was still raining when we got on the bus to come home. We were the last bus still there at the end of the meet because we had some kids still throwing the discus, and it was such a great feeling to be around. All of those kids just gathered around the throwers and the excitement was there and it was an incredible experience for all of them.”