JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge
JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge
For the better part of the last three decades, Jamie LaRocca has spent every spring on high school tracks in southeast Michigan.
After an all-state career as a runner at Summerfield High School, LaRocca then took over the program as its head coach in 1982. He led the Bulldogs to three Tri-County Conference titles before taking over the program at Whiteford High School.
LaRocca led the Bobcats to the first boys state title in school history in 2007. His team finished 12th in the state in 2004 and then took sixth, second, first, and third the following four years in Division 4.
But after coaching for 10 years at Summerfield and then another decade at Whiteford, LaRocca said he has decided to retire.
"I think I'm done. I will be 50 in October and I've had 20 years of it," LaRocca said. "I've been on a track since junior high. I met my wife at a track meet at Whiteford."
He finishes with a career record of 149-45. His teams won seven conference titles: three at Summerfield and four at Whiteford.
"I listen to my athletes and I let my kids decide a lot of things with me," LaRocca said. "I think that's why we've had so much success."
He said he was actually a bit disappointed when his team finished third at the state meet in May.
"I got spoiled," he said. "The last four years we had four top 10 finishes. It was a nice way to end it."
LaRocca can also give partial credit to the sport for starting his marriage. He said he was a junior at Summerfield when he was introduced to his future wife, Cindy. The couple recently
ated in 1978. He played football, basketball, and baseball, and ran track. He made first team all-state in football and track.
He said he focused on track his senior year.
"I wanted to go farther in state so I focused strictly on track," he said.
LaRocca was a middle distance runner as a freshman and sophomore. He moved to the sprint events as a junior and senior.
As a freshman, LaRocca placed fourth in the state in the quarter mile. As a sophomore, he took second in the half mile and placed third in the 400.
He then took third in the state in the 200 as a junior and senior.
When LaRocca graduated he had established nine new school marks and he still holds six school records at Summerfield, having the fastest times in the 100, 400, and 800, and as a member of the record-setting 400, 800, and 1600 relay teams.
LaRocca subsequently coached two athletes at Summerfield who broke his school records in the 1980s. Scott Bail set the new record in the 200, and Steve Sampson now holds the mark in the low hurdles.
LaRocca said pursuing college was not an option because he had nine brothers and seven sisters, all of whom went to Summerfield.
He experienced instant success when he became the coach at Summerfield just four years after he had graduated.
"They said we're having trouble finding someone to take over the program and the next thing I know I was hired," LaRocca said.
His teams won back-to-back league titles the first two years he was at the helm. After 10 years at Summerfield, LaRocca resigned and took four years off.
"We ended up moving to where my wife grew up in the Whiteford district," he said. "We bought the house she grew up in."
LaRocca said he decided to move to the program at Whiteford so that he could coach his sons, Vincent and Anthony.
"That was not an easy decision. I caught a lot of flak from people," LaRocca said. "My boys are the first ones with our names to compete at another school. But I got to coach both of my boys, and you can't replace that."
He took over the program in 1999 and initially had just 16 athletes. He bumped that number up to 30 his first season there.
"The only losing season I had was that first season," he said.
Whiteford won four league titles under LaRocca. His sons also earned all-state honors.
LaRocca credits Bob Edelbrock, his coach at Summerfield, for teaching him the nuances of the sport.
"I listened more than he thought I did," LaRocca said.
He said he will stay active at the prep level through officiating basketball, something he has done for 36 seasons, but that coaching track just got to be too much with his job as a supervisor with D & P Communications.
"I know I will miss it, but it was getting to be a hassle to get to practice with my job," LaRocca said. "They have a very solid group of kids there. One kid said he was going to come and stand in my yard next season until I came out and coached."
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