By Glenn Thompson
The 1927 New York Yankees fielded a lineup for the ages. The Bronx Bombers were anchored by the legendary duo of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig who teamed up to rock the American league for an astounding 107 home runs and 339 RBIs. Ruth set a major-league record with 60 homers, while Gehrig set a big-league record with 175 RBIs. Two other Yankees, Bob Meusel and Tony Lazzeri, exceeded the 100-RBI mark. The outfield of Ruth, Meusel and Earle Combs combined for 597 hits and a .350 average Ruth and Combs hit .356, and Meusel finished at .337. Gehrig batted .373.
That legendary team rampaged through the summer of 27, winning a record 110 games and lapped the second place Philadelphia Athletics to win the American league pennant by a mere 19 games, and went on to blitz the Pittsburgh Pirates in a four-game sweep of the World Series. That stunning team earned a nickname that still sticks today: Murders Row.
How many high school coaches are thrilled to have to have a 50 boy putter or 135 girls discus thrower come through their program every three to five years? Okay, you can put your hand down now. But imagine having two or three 50-footers or several 135 girls. Uhhh, you might want to wipe the corner of your mouth. Now imagine having 10 boys over 50', 6 girls over 35', 8 boys over 150, and 6 girls over 133'! Sounds like a pretty good state meet, eh?? What if I told you all this talent had attended the same public high school?! And all at the same time?! Its the stone-cold truth.
Hey, no problem. Hit the bathroom, take the magazine with you and keep reading while you clean yourself up and change your drawers.
Arroyo Grande High School, nestled on the Central Coast of California in San Luis Obispo County, mid-way between San Francisco and Los Angeles, has accumulated a modern-day Murders Row. With 2,600 students spread across four grades, there is a significant population to draw from. But theres more than a few schools across the contiguous 48 of that size that are lucky to have one 50-footer. And yes, the weather is great year round. But who else is doing this in California, Hawaii or Florida? So whats the secret in the sauce here?
Passionate is an understatement. Budke started coaching right after graduation from AGHS, attending college in the morning, helping out at his alma mater in the afternoon and working in the evening. I was very busy cant believe I did it actually.
I have been coaching track and field for 17 years now, continues Budke. Since 1994 I have been in control over the entire throws program. When I first started, I just coached the discus. My high school coach Larry Will, who inspired my passion, would work the shot with the kids, and I took the discus.
I have found that [football coaching] is a very important tool in getting boys into throwing, says Budke. I would say that 90% of my throwers have played football, and currently they all do. Most of them, had I not coached in football, would have never come out for track. Because of the relationship that I was able to build with them, they were motivated to give [throwing] a try.
I use my older kids to recruit for me. I had Sean Shields, who at the time was the starting quarterback and off guard on the basketball team, recruit Billie Jo Grant like mad. It didnt take a genius to figure out that she was gong to be a great one. The only challenge was to get her out. BJ, having been told her entire life what a great basketball player she was, thought that was going to be her ticket. Having never thrown before, it was a long shot, but since I had talked to her junior high coach and he prepped her for me, she thought it would be a great idea to have someone help her get stronger for basketball. The rest was easy. It is a great sport, kids love to see themselves get better, and will work hard to make sure it happens.
Youd think that over the years of having a successful program that the kids would come in droves? Not so. Budke finds himself on the recruiting trail every year, never taking for granted the student population is aware of his program. Budke posts articles celebrating the AGHS program in the weightroom. He is active scouting the lower level sports, and most importantly, he asks. Most of the time that is all it takes, he says. If you tell a kid they might have some talent for something, they will generally listen.
· 10 boys over 50' in
the shot with the 12' (distances 591', 59',
Its the deepest group weve ever had, says Budke. We have always had a pretty deep squad, but nothing like this. We should be pretty deep next year as well. We are only losing three senior boys and two senior girls. We had four kids throw the 10 lb. over 52 feet this year, and we have a great group of young girls. One of our freshman girls threw the disc 129.
The honor roll of alumni is just as impressive:
· 1995 State Champion
Nadia Lopez 162' discus, went to Berkeley.
I tell them all the time that the success that they have is directly related to the work that they have done, Budke says. I think it is a disservice to our kids to say that the only reason they are successful is because they are part of our program. They know that the team helps in the sense that it is easier to workout with a group than by themselves, but they also know they are directly responsible for whatever they do. I dont want them to feel as if they couldnt be every bit as successful somewhere else.
When asked about overwhelming competitors, Budke is both modest and understated. Yeah, we do pretty well at most of our meets. One of the frustrating things is that we have to leave kids home all the time who could place very well when we head to our weekend invites. With limited entries we have to juggle the line up (number one throws shot, number two throws discus, etc.). A couple of weekends during the season we will send throwers to different meets throughout Southern California. One time this year we went to three different meets on the same day and won varsity events at all of them. Opposing coaches in general are pretty good about our big squad.
AGHSs supporting cast could be big fish if they had been hatched in smaller ponds, even champions in states. Budke reminds them constantly of how special they are and they know that their coach takes just as much pleasure in their improvements as he does with a state champion.
Off-season Commitment To Excellence
Regarding practices, It varies from year to year depending on the skill level of the kids, says Budke. This year with so many good ones, and more importantly hard working ones, I have three groups of about 10. The first is a group of football guys that have a weightlifting period before school, so they get done at 2:00 pm and that is when they start. I work with them for an hour and then the rest of the group will start (the first group will go and do weight room work and all of the other non-throwing stuff. We break up the next twenty kids into two groups, beginners and vets. An assistant takes one of the groups, say the first year throwers, and works with them for around 30 minutes in one event, then the other event for another 30 minutes before they head to the weight room and conditioning. At that time the first group comes back out and works in the second event, while the vets from the other groups work in their second event. The average veteran is out there for around three hours and gets around 50-60 discus throws in and 30-40 shot throws.
If you got a passing grade on word problems, you can probably figure out that AGHS has some tremendous resources at its disposal. Try 35 each of 1.6kg and 1kg discs, 15 shots at the respective weights, plus off-weight shots. The real killer? Seven shot rings and six discus circles! But this isnt just a case of kids with silver spoons. AGHS track athletes have raised over $35,000 in the last three years and that money has gone right back into the program. Supportive families have helped as well. One father donated $10,000 for a new discus cage, nicknamed The Thunderdome, while an uncle of another donated the concrete for the discus pad.
All this reduces stand around time, which Budke detests. Something that I figured out along time ago, was that kids get bored if they are standing around waiting for a ring, he says. We dont have more than two kids working off a ring at any time. It has taken some time, and a lot of concrete to do that, but as everyone knows, if you build it they will come. Budke can even move the cage to best suit the wind on any given day.
Budke advises fellow coaches to model the type of behavior you expect out of the kids. If you want them to work hard, youd better tow the line. Also, buy a lot of shots and discs. They arent expensive, and in most cases with high school kids, the more throws they get, the better.
When asked what he finds the most rewarding, Budke wastes no time in responding. The relationships you develop with kids, he replies. It is the main reason I coach. Believe it or not, I have been told that I seem to have a hard exterior, but to the kids I work with, they know that they are the most important part of my life. I love to help them succeed, and feel like I have a lot to offer in that way. It is in no way, shape or form, the public victories that I enjoy. It is the ones that no one outside our group of throwers knows about. Just yesterday, at our league finals, we had a freshman throw 129, a 13 PR. She was so happy and the rest of the team was elated. Even though she is the seventh best discus thrower on the team, and wont get any public recognition, we celebrated her victory. Those are the moments that are truly special.
Budke does not pretend to have
invented the craft of coaching the throws. I have modeled
our program after a couple of great coaches in the Southern California
area, he says. Tony Ciarrelli at Huntington Beach
High School, and Bill Pendelton at Esperanza High School, are
two of the finest throwing coaches in the country and provided
me with a model of what a throws program could become.
Grant describes Budke as a role model and fatherly figure to
many of his athletes for his dedication and the tough road he
took to complete his own education. He has the that
was good...but, attitude, because he always wants to make
his athletes better. All his athletes want to do their
best because they want to please him, because of all the work
that he puts in.
Rob found me at a middle
school track meet during eighth grade, says Stephanie Brown,
who is now an NCAA shot and disc medallist. At the time
I was playing volleyball for the local club team and was hardly
interested in competing in track and field. I was a tall, lanky
uncoordinated girl, and during that track season I had managed
to throw a whopping 18 feet in the shot put. My discus throw
probably wasnt much farther. What Rob saw that day at the
track must have been something totally different.
Nope, its just Budke, and hes in the weightroom, on the football field, or combing the halls, searching for the next Babe Ruth, or even a sweet-swinging utility infielder. *LSTJ*