When John Barnes, coach of the Glendale High boys and girls track and field teams, says one of his competitors has potential, people tend to listen.
He said it about Dwight Stones when he was at Glendale, and Stones went on to be a three-time Olympian and a two-time medal-winner.
Now Barnes is speaking the praises of Richard Erbes.
And the 17-year-old distance runner has done nothing to disappoint.
Erbes, the CIF 4-A cross-country champion this year, remains unbeaten in distance races this season.
Today he puts his 12-race winning streak on the line when the Dynamiters open Pacific League action at 3 p.m. at Pasadena High.
Erbes will probably face his toughest match-up April 12 against Daren Stonerock, one of the talented Stonerock twins from Saugus High School, in the two-mile event at the 19th annual Arcadia Invitational Track Meet. Stonerock is considered the premier distance runner in California.
‘One of the Finest’
“Richard’s one of the finest distance runners in Southern California,” Barnes said. “He can go as far as he wants to go. There are very few kids I’ve said that about.”
Besides Stones, who graduated from Glendale in 1971, Barnes also coached world-class high jumper Lee Balkin, a 1979 graduate who competed at UCLA.
“When Dwight Stones went here, I told him he could make the 1972 U. S. Olympic team if he kept at it,” said Barnes, who has coached Glendale since 1968. “And I’ve told Richard that if he stays with it, by the time he’s 20 he could be a world-ranked runner, if things go right.”
Erbes seems to be on the right track.
In his last race before Easter break, at the Santa Barbara Relays on March 22, Erbes won the two-mile in 9:39.4, his best outdoor time of the year.
In January, Erbes set his best two-mile indoor mark of 9:22.8 when he finished third in the Sunkist Invitational at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
Erbes recorded his best mile mark of 4:24 against Burroughs of Burbank on March 6.
‘Quality of a Champion’
“He has every quality of a champion in him,” said Barnes. “He’s talented, coachable and very disciplined. When you have someone who has all those ingredients, you can’t go wrong.”
But he must stay healthy.
Last year as a sophomore, flu cost Erbes the chance to run in the CIF State Track and Field Championships in May.
After placing fourth in the two-mile in the CIF 4-A finals, Erbes qualified but did not race in the CIF Regional Masters Meet in May because he fell sick the night before the meet. Winners of the masters events, which feature the best athletes from all divisions in the Southern Section, qualify for the state meet.
Although Erbes has continued to win this year, he has been hampered by chronic sinus problems since early March.
But the stubborn young runner has ignored pleas from Barnes and distance coach Jim Jordan to slow down and has continued to follow his normal workout schedule.
“My coaches think I’m pushing too hard as far as the sickness is concerned. Sure, I try to listen to them and their advice, but I can’t stop. Running is a part of my life,” said the baby-faced Erbes.
Feel ‘I’m Cheating Myself’
“I’ve tried to cut down during Easter vacation, but I feel like I’m cheating myself if I do. I like to put in a full workout if I work out at all.”
The normal workout begins at 6 a.m. when he runs six miles before school for stamina. In the afternoon he runs an additional six miles for speed.
“I spend most of my day at school. Then when I come home, I study until 9:30,” said Erbes, who had a perfect 4.0 grade-point average last semester.
But Barnes wants Erbes, who won the mile in the Pacific League finals last year and finished second in the two-mile, healthy for league action. Barnes has yet to win a Pacific League title since moving from the Foothill League in 1982. His teams captured four Foothill titles from 1970 to 1980.
“As far as we’re concerned, the season really begins with league because that takes you into the CIF and state finals,” Barnes said. “I feel you have to be ready for that long season. Otherwise, everything else--win, lose or draw--really doesn’t matter.”
What matters to Erbes is running. He began jogging with his father, James, when he was 11.
Setting the Pace
“I love to run. It feels like an escape to run, as if you can go wherever you want. It’s something nobody can make you do. It’s something you have to want to do.”
The 5-10, 140-pound Erbes enjoys leading and setting the pace.
“I usually end up taking the lead and just try to hold off opponents, hoping they will die off if I set a good pace. Since I seem to be better at longer distances and don’t have a lot of speed, I use my endurance and long stride to help pace myself.”
Said Barnes: “Right now, I think the two-mile is his best event because he has confidence in it. I think he’s a tad too slow to be a great miler, but he has more than adequate speed for a long-distance runner.
“He can set the pace or come from behind. It makes no difference because he has a lot more speed than he gives himself credit for.”
Under Barnes’ direction, Erbes has refined his talent.
“Coach Barnes has taught me how to discipline my running. I’ve picked out things in my form that will help me go faster, and I’ve learned to push myself a lot further than I did as a freshman.”
Said Barnes: “Richard’s response to coaching is refreshing. We don’t tell him what to do, we discuss it. You can’t ask for more than that. By his senior year, he should be the best ever.”
Erbes hopes to run in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.
“I try to be modest about my abilities, but maybe I’ll make the Olympics,” said Erbes, who has received recruitment letters from the Naval Academy, Arizona and Brown. “The Olympics are always in the back of my mind.”