Coaching track and field at Toledo Christian requires thinking out of the box.
An unconventional approach to training is the only way to prepare a team without daily access to a track.
Toledo Christian coach Paul Barney, who has been in charge of the program since 1995, has known no other way. The Eagles just have to make the most of the situation.
Despite not having a track to call their own, the Eagles haven t shown signs of being significantly hindered the last few years. They have won the Toledo Area Athletic Conference championship three years straight and are considered front-runners to win a fourth on Friday at Northwood.
Toledo Christian is also on a three-year run as district champion.
There was a story in the paper a few years ago about the Libbey track team having to practice on a gravel track, Barney said. I read that story and thought, You know what I d give to have practices on a gravel track.
The Eagles don t step into a running lane until the day of meets. They practice running in the parking lot without the benefit of having painted lines to guide them on a straight path. Sprinters don t have the opportunity to practice running on curves to hand off batons for a relay until a meet.
Yet, the Eagles aren t complaining.
We actually use a lot of our track meets as practice time where we go there to work on things like our baton handoffs, Barney said. We re the favorites to win [the TAAC] and these seniors have taken us through a great stretch run.
Thrower Josh Kaiser and runners Marcus Benjamin, Tyler Boris, Blake Powell, Andrew Bosserman and Ben Pereus have in one way or another contributed to the Eagles having an unmatched level of team success during Barney s tenure.
It s clearly the best group I ve ever worked with, Barney said.
Kaiser is considered one of the top in the area in the discus and shot put, even though the Eagles never practice in an actual throwing ring. The Eagles throw inside a small circular sheet of metal in an open field behind the school. There s no concrete surface, wooden oval or safety fence used by Kaiser and his teammates during practices.
Nonetheless, Kaiser returns as a favorite to contend at state in both events. He placed fourth in the shot put at state in Division III last year with a distance of 52 feet, 7 inches. A regional qualifier in discus a year ago, he failed to qualify for state in his best event.
Kaiser said he s more mentally ready this year. He recently earned outstanding performer in field events at the Knights Relays held at St. Francis, in part, for his season-best throw of 160-1 in the discus.
I let the pressure get to me last year at regionals in the discus, said Kaiser, a 6-foot, 230-pounder. I was trying too hard in discus and when you try too hard your technique gets off.
I ve been to a lot of other big meets and have gone up against a lot of other good competition and I ve shown I can go out and do my thing.
Barney has high expectations for Kaiser with four weeks remaining in the track season.
He s made really good progress every year, Barney said. He s not nearly at his peak. We think he can throw 170 feet in the discus and the shot put about 55 feet this year.
The Eagles also have been strong in the sprint events the last few seasons. Benjamin returns as the top sprinter having qualified for state in the 200 meters as a sophomore. He s looking to rebound from a disappointing junior season in which he suffered a hamstring injury late in the year, which kept him from making a return trip to state.
Benjamin, who ran third at the Knight Relays in the 100 meters, has been timed at 10.8 for the 100 and 23.0 for the 200 this spring. He heads into the TAAC meet injury free.
I m in the best shape I ve ever been in, Benjamin said.
Running straights in the parking lot behind the school hasn t slowed Benjamin.
He s clearly one of the top sprinters in the region, Barney said. He s made a pretty good mark this year and even though we re Division III, he s known in the city.
Perhaps lesser known are Boris, Powell, Bosserman and Pereus. Yet, they re not overlooked for their efforts by Barney.
Boris and Powell, along with sophomore Andrew Kelleher, were members of the 3200-meter relay team that placed ninth at state last year with a time of 8:16.43.
Bosserman and Pereus are also versatile athletes who participate in sprint and relay events to give the Eagles a deep and talented bunch that believes it has an opportunity to improve upon an 11th-place team finish at state a year ago.
Barney thinks if all falls into place over the next month the Eagles could challenge for a state title, which would be the first state team championship.
Bethany McGraw won a state long jump title in girls competition three years ago and is the only state champion in school history.
We re very well-rounded as a team, Barney said. We don t have any real weaknesses except pole vault. We re deeper this year and we hope that s enough.
Kaiser said one of the team s goals from the beginning of the season has been to win a state championship.
As a team we know what we have to do in order to do that, Kaiser said. As we accomplish our individual goals we ll accomplish our team goals.
Benjamin shares a similar opinion.
I m just hoping I can help the team too, Benjamin said. Our focus hasn t been on us but it s been on the whole team. For four years we ve been hoping we could win it.