NEWPORT, Wash. – Maybe it’s the blueberries.
Why not – after all, no other theory holds water any better than saying it’s in the water.
But whatever it is, it’s working.
Newport is a hotbed for hurdling.
It’s reasonable to assume Aaron and Aric Walden will medal at the State 1A track meet in three weeks, quite possibly finishing first and second, the order, it appears, depending on which hurdle race.
If – no, when – they do, that will add to the Grizzlies’ current haul of 20 state hurdling medals this decade. Of those, seven are gold, five for the 110-meter high hurdles.
“That’s just what they do,” Newport coach Barry Sartz said.
Hurdling was mostly an afterthought Saturday afternoon at the revised Newport Relays.
The meet, dormant for more than a decade, was revived on the refurbished track at Don Ellersick Memorial Field. Hurdles, like every event except the George Johnson Memorial Mile, was a relay. It consisted of four hurdlers covering seven hurdles, with one runner racing about 90 meters one way, a teammate going back to another teammate.
It was one of the fun events of the meet, along with the co-ed 3,200 relay, the two-person 1,600 and field events decided by the combined effort of three teammates.
Of course, with the Waldens, the Newport boys won the event easily, leading to the team title with 134 points, 24 clear of Riverside. The Grizzly girls piled up 110 points to edge the Rams by seven.
The hurdle haul actually started in 1999 when Pat Stahl was coach and sophomore J.J. Jordan placed in both. Jordan ended up with six medals, capped by a title in the 2A 110s as a senior in 2001, the year Sartz took over. That year Jordan Patterson placed twice, giving him three medals.
After two off years, Ian Weber won the 110s in ’03 and ’04 and Justin Emel picked up four medals, including a first in the 300s in ’04, the first year the Griz dropped to 1A.
Then came Adam Walden, who gobbled up five medals, including three golds, capped by sweep in 2007 as a senior.
The foundation is built early.
“I think it’s the excitement of the coaches for that event,” assistant coach Anita Urmann said. “It’s a coincidence we all ended up here. There’s a continuity of junior high and high school coach. They kids learn early.”
Urmann does the recruiting and early training of the junior high kids.
“Then they feed off of Barry’s enthusiasm,” she said.
“You go to a meet and schools don’t have hurdlers, you think that’s where you can build something,” Sartz said. “It’s a speed thing. Our kids train totally different. The farthest they run is 90 meters.
“Then you get them hooked up with somebody like Linda Lanker (of Spokane, who helps anyone and everyone who asks). When you see our kids they hurdle totally different than other kids. Of course, they have to be athletes.”
Unlike his older brother Adam, Aaron wasn’t a natural but he stuck with it thanks to Weber, who took him under his wing when he was in junior high, and began to experience success until late last spring as a junior.
“Mostly it was the enthusiasm Barry showed,” he said. “I was never really fast. I had to figure out the form.”
Aric, a sophomore, was close to a natural. He broke Adam’s junior high record and is just a couple of tenths shy of Adam’s best time in the 110s.
“When I was in seventh grade I wasn’t athletic, I tripped over my own feet,” he said. “I looked up to Adam, he was just amazing. I heard everybody talking about him and I wanted to be like him.”
In the summer he would tag along on Adam’s twice-weekly visits to train with Lanker. Earlier this season she helped him out of a slump in a couple of minutes. Now he leads 1A hurdlers in the 110s at 15.14 seconds, with Aaron fifth at 15.88. Aaron is second in the 300s (41.24) with Aric fifth (41.84).
“It’s the coaching,” Aric said. “Anita and Sartz get us started and Linda Lanker is the best coach I’ve ever had.”
Sartz competed and coached in the Greater Spokane League and he inherited Urmann when he replaced Stahl in 2001. Urmann and her husband, Stan, coached high school track in Red Bluff, Calif., before buying property outside Priest River in 1993.
“We wanted property, but the cost in Northern California was prohibitive,” she said. “We moved up here and I got a job teaching in Newport.”
Her husband did not return to teaching, instead turning the property into a blueberry farm, harvesting more than 15,000 pounds of the berries each summer.
Maybe there is a connection.
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