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Track veterans – Nearly 50 years of coaching experience at JFK, Silverton

James Day

It’s spring. It’s raining. And if you drive anywhere near the tracks at Silverton and Kennedy you will see dozens of athletes running and jumping and throwing things.

Last week I saw a half dozen Foxes runners trying to cross Oak Street on Second Street at rush hour. Brave lads.

And you also know that those activities, as well as with cross country in the fall, are taking place under the veteran supervision of coaches Erik Cross of Silverton and Kennedy’s Steve Ritchie. Cross has been coaching the Foxes for 25 years, a milestone that Ritchie will reach next season.

What keeps them going?

“Several things, I suppose,” Cross said in an email exchange with Our Town. “It’s inspiring when you see athletes improve doing something they enjoy [and] often that is something they didn’t know they enjoyed until they decided to join the team.  I’m motivated by the questions ‘What can this group accomplish?’ and ‘What can the program become?’ The answer to both are determined by the individuals who decide to spend their spring with us. Each team and season is very different. We try to balance teaching general guiding principles with giving the athletes space to make this experience unique for their team.”

Ritchie, meanwhile, noted that “I love the students who turn out for track and cross country at Kennedy. The kids are very nice to an old codger like me, and it is fun for me to see them improve and excel in these sports. I sincerely believe that the sports I coach are great for life lessons and can enrich their high school experience just like mine was enriched back in the 1960s.”

Obviously, both have experienced massive amounts of change in their careers. Cross said “the ability to connect with other coaches from all over is incredible now compared to when I started coaching.”

Ritchie noted both positive and negative impacts of technology.

“When I started coaching everything was with paper and pencil and hand times,” he said. “We spent hours filling out event sheets and copying reams of results after a meet. Sometimes we wouldn’t get results for two days after a meet; now it is possible to get instantaneous results as kids finish a race by just picking up your phone. It’s an amazing change.”

Ritchie, however, also noted the challenging effects of social media.

“While there are good things about social media,” he said, “ I think in sports like cross country and track it is too easy for kids to look at what others are doing and feeling worse about themselves. A college coach I talked to recently said he would like to ban his team from using [the] Strava [app] because it was distorting their workouts, as they tried to top other people they follow on Strava.”

Cross said that he is concerned about “the social pressure on these student-athletes to do it all and to always be available. It isn’t surprising that there seems to be a correlation with chronic worry of missing out, messing up, or making the ‘wrong’ decision among many of our young adults. Generally, I’ve felt that the students I work with are less happy, content, and confident than those I coached and taught even ten years ago.  Again, I’m speaking in general terms, but the trend is something we need to pay attention to.”

On the track itself both coaches are pleased with the crop of athletes and their performances in the early going.

Ritchie noted the versatility of boys standouts Stephan Salinas (high jump and relays), Jeremiah Traeger (hurdles, jumps and relays) and Elijah Traeger (javelin, jumps and relays). On the girls side freshman Rachel Kintz will look to pick up where she left off in cross country and lead the distance corps, while Haley Kline, Kylee Rodriguez and Alyse Williams are set to go in the sprint races and the relays.

At Silverton, the usually strong field events corps features Sam Willis, who already has broken his brother Ben’s discus school record with a 155-5 effort, Orie Schaffers, who is closing in on 50 feet in the shot put, javelin thrower Steeley Mucken and Joel Rush (pole vault).  A deep sprinting group will benefit from the addition of football standouts Austin Ratliff and Jackson Pfeifer.

On the girls side, Lilly Horner and Leah Twede return to lead the javelin corps, Kirsten Kuenzi, Kyra Bashor and Molly Kuenzi are strong in the sprints and horizontal jumps, Amanda Dahlquist is one of the league’s top shot putters and Emily Gehring, Natasha Fink and Alisha Larkin “will be a very tough hurdle crew,” Cross said.

Equestrian: Silverton placed second behind Canby in the second Oregon High School Equestrian Teams North Valley competition at the Oregon State Fairgrounds. The Foxes participate in one more North Valley event before the May 12-15 state meet in Redmond.

Silverton scored 584 points, trailing only Canby’s 716. Silverton had three Foxes win four individuals events, plus two teams finishing in the top spot.

Megan Cuff was first in showmanship and trail equitation, while teammate Samantha Griffin was first in barrels and Danielle Velasco won the figure 8 competition. Griffin and Hannah Russel teamed up to take first in the Canadian flag race and Griffin and Alexis Ditchen were first in two-man birangle.

Gymnastics: Silverton Gymnastics Academy turned in a series of strong performances in the USA Gymnastics Oregon Xcel state competition April 1-3 at the Oregon State Fairgrounds
in Salem.

The Silverton club won team titles in four divisions and finished second in another while qualifying 23 athletes for regionals April 29-31 in Monroe, Washington.

“We are super, super excited with how the girls finished this year,” said coach Celia Storey, whose club features 62 athletes, aged seven to 17.

Seven club members won all-around titles. They were:

Riley Hess, Xcel bronze, child division

Elaina Knaust, Xcel bronze, Jr. B division

Rowan Neal, Xcel silver, Jr. C division

Mikayla Giard, Xcel gold, Sr. B division

Addie Gerasimenko, Xcel platinum child division

Jenica Gerasimenko, Xcel platinum, Jr. B division

Ella Storey, Xcel diamond

In addition, club members also claimed five champions in vault, eight in balance beam, ten in uneven bars and 13 in floor exercise.

Academics: The Kennedy girls basketball team turned in a combined 3.89 grade-point average, tying the Trojans with Regis for the top spot in Class 2A in the OSAA’s winter sports rankings. The top GPA turned in by a Silverton team was a 3.66 by the dance and drill squad, which finished 17th among all Oregon teams.

Here is a look at other Kennedy teams:

Girls swimming: 3.88,  3rd in Class 4A-3A-2A-1A

Boys swimming: 3.52,  8th in Class 4A-3A-2A-1A

Wrestling: 3.28, 6th in Class 2A-1A

Cheerleading: 3.27, 40th among all classes

Other Silverton scores include:

Girls basketball: 3.68, 14th in Class 5A
Boys basketball: 3.48, 10th in Class 5A
Girls swimming: 3.54, 15th in Class 5A
Boys swimming: 3.2, 14th in Class 5A

Baseball: Kennedy battled back from its first loss of the season to take 2 out of 3 from Westside Christian and retain its No. 1 spot in Class 2A-1A. The Trojans, who lost the opener 5-4 on April 7, came back to win the April 8 doubleheader 13-0 and 15-0 to improve to 9-1. Kennedy is 5-1 in Special District 2, tied with Culver and one game ahead of Santiam and Westside.

Silverton, meanwhile, is 6-4 and ranked No. 10 in Class 5A. The Foxes opened their Mid-Willamette Conference season April 11 against Corvallis after the Our Town presstime.

Softball: Kennedy is 5-3 overall and 4-0 in Special District 2 and ranked 5th in Class 2A-1A. Santiam is 4-1, with the lone loss a 6-0 shutout at the hands of Kennedy on April 6 at Mill City.
The two teams play again May 2 in Mount Angel.

Silverton is 7-3 overall and ranked No. 10 in Class 5A entering Mid-Willamette play. The Foxes, led by veteran coach Ralph Cortez, have been an offensive machine thus far, averaging 12 runs per game. They have scored in double figures in 9 of their 10 games.

Follow me on Twitter @jameshday and Our Town on Facebook.

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