You almost need a map to keep up with track and field practice at University High School.
Head Coach Dana Shelburne first gathers his athletes in front of the gymnasium, then sends them all over the campus--and across the street to the University of San Diego--to their workout areas.
Long and triple jumpers clamber down the hill on the campus’ south side, where a tiny practice area has been carved out of the steep slope. Sprinters stay on the grass outside the gymnasium.
Weight people toss the discus and shot put on a narrow, uphill corridor next to the right-field foul line of the softball field. High jumpers practice wherever there is room to set up their crossbar and landing pads, be it on asphalt or grass. Pole vaulters are out of luck--they have no practice area at all.
Distance runners and hurdlers follow Shelburne to the USD track, which is actually a rugby field surrounded by a dirt running area.
Shelburne is head track and field coach at a high school with no track.
Coaching at a parochial school with limited funds, Shelburne has to conduct his program without amenities taken for granted elsewhere--a fact accepted with wry good humor by the athletes.
As sophomore discus and shot put thrower Chris Paolini puts it, “We have to improvise here because we don’t have as big a budget as other schools.”
University’s tiny campus in Linda Vista just isn’t large enough for facilities like a combination football field and track or a baseball diamond. The football, baseball, soccer, swim and water polo squads compete at USD, and the tennis team plays its matches at a nearby YMCA.
But none face the dilemma of the track squad, which practices daily in several locations and has its two “home” meets each season at opposing schools.
“It’s frustrating at times,” said Shelburne, in his second year as head coach. “And it’s difficult to keep up the enthusiasm--the kids’ or mine. But I believe the ones who do survive are superior in character to those (at other schools) who can just walk out to the track and practice.”
University’s boys’ and girls’ teams finished the Western League dual meet season 1-4, fifth in the standings. No one at the school is saying the Dons would suddenly become more competitive if they had adequate facilities. But certainly things would be easier.
“We’d have more team unity if we could practice here,” said Dave Wachtel, a junior high jumper and runner. “We lose a lot of people because we don’t have a track on campus. It takes a total individual effort if you’re going to do anything here.”
Said weight man Dale Wagner, “If we had a real track, the school would take us (the track team) more seriously, and the team would pull closer together. When we go to a meet, no one cares.”
Shelburne said some of his athletes are more affected by the team’s lack of facilities than others. For instance, the rugby field at USD is circled by a track 370 yards long, 70 yards shorter than the traditional 440. Shelburne thinks this puts his runners at a particular disadvantage.
“It’s largely psychological,” he said. “When they finish two laps here (on the USD field), they’ve gone 740 yards. Then, when they run the 880 in a meet, they think they’re done after 740 yards.”
The top runner on the girls’ team, freshman Kristin Bache, is not quite so sure about Shelburne’s assessment.
“I don’t think it really makes that much difference,” said Bache, whose 2:23 time at 800 meters ties her for fourth best in the county. “We work just as hard. And when you’re racing, it all just goes by so fast.”
Bache’s teammate, sophomore hurdler and jumper Katie Brannigan, faces more of a burden in practice. She cannot practice the 330 low hurdles because the shorter USD track is curved differently from a normal track and because the team does not own enough hurdles to set up a course.
Brannigan is also hampered when practicing the long and triple jumps at University’s jumping pit.
“The jumping pit is just being completed, and in between the end of the runway and the pit is a ditch three feet long,” said Brannigan, the Western League champion in the long jump. “So you’re in trouble if you don’t hit your mark just right.”
On the other hand, at least Brannigan has a place to practice, unlike the pole vaulters. Wachtel used to compete in the vault, but doesn’t this year largely because a promised practice area has yet to be completed. But he remembers what it was like in the past.
“We’d practice maybe once a week at another school, but we’d do most of our practicing at the meets,” said Wachtel, who attained a best of 10-feet 6-inches. “I wound up beating people from Mission Bay and Clairemont, which was kind of amazing.”
Dan Ritter, who coaches the discus and shot put, said the track facilities have been improved in the past two years and should get better. The jumping pit is new, areas for pole vault and high jump are planned and a recently completed weight room is also beneficial, he said.
“Actually, this is the best it’s been here,” Ritter said. “From my point of view, I don’t know how we do it. I guess it’s because the kids want to succeed, and they have coaches willing to help them.”
And right now, practice sessions remain a major tactical operation at the school without a track.