Grandview Track & Field - Where Winning Isn't The Only Thing
One thought kept rolling around in my head as I drove to Grandview High's campus on the southwestern edge of Kansas City. If I write an article about Grandview's six straight Missouri Class 3 boys' state titles, will it jinx them in their pursuit of number seven?
I posed this question to Harvey Kendall, or Coach Harvey to everyone who knows him. Coach Harvey is one of the key assistant track coaches who has been instrumental in building and maintaining the Bulldogs' track and field dynasty.
"Ain't nothing about no jinx," Harvey responded in a slow drawl that contains remnants of his North Carolina roots. "It's about doing things the right way."
Harvey knows a thing or two about molding youngsters into state champions. Both he and his wife were track All-Americans at St. Augustine's College in Raleigh, NC. Their two sons, Harvey, Jr. and Maliek, were former Missouri state champions at Grandview and a big part of building the Bulldogs into one of Missouri's most respected and decorated high school track programs.
"The main thing is you come out here and you be disciplined," preaches Harvey. "You understand what we're doing. Stay with the program, be a model citizen at home, in the community and when you're here at the school. If you master those three things - take care of business at home, take care of business in the community and take care of business at school, everything else will flow right here on the track."
When I went looking for head track Coach Russell Dotson at one of Grandview's first practices this year, I didn't spot him until one of the students pointed him out to me. His youthfulness allows him to easily blend in with his athletes. Earlier this month he tweeted out a selfie of himself doing a live backflip. Coach Dot knows how to enjoy life and he knows how to instill a work ethic into his athletes that produces state titles.
"We work with these kids a lot on character and how to properly react to success and failure," explains Dotson. "You might not think a six-time state championship team knows much about failure but I can tell you every point we lost at the state meet due to a dropped baton or a false start. It's not easy to get teenagers to act like role models but that's exactly what we asked of them. Not every athlete succeeds with how we want them to practice, act and perform but we've been pretty good at getting our kids to buy into what we are doing."
Easy to do if you're surrounded by a supportive family and plenty of resources. That is not the case for some of these Grandview student athletes.
"Some of these kids have next to nothing," says Dana Bedwell, the head girls track coach who spends almost as much time working with the boys' team. "What some of these kids overcome to be here and be champions is just remarkable. I could not be prouder of their success."
When I asked Dana how long she's been part of the Grandview track program she froze mid-step as we strolled off Grandview's Columbia-blue track.
"I usually answer that question with, 'Longer than you've been alive.' But I don't think that applies with you, Greg." For the record, Dana has been coaching at Grandview since 1991 - and she still looks like she could turn a pretty mean 400.
"We talk to (our athletes) about what we have accomplished with what we have. We tell them we are going to 'Rocky train!' We are going to be out in the snow, punching trees - if that's what we've got to do, cool! We have to be creative with what we have and how we adjust our training. You can get a lot done in a school hallway. You can get a lot done over 50 meters if you do it right."
Coach Dotson is showing his sprinters how he wants them to pace off the placement of their blocks as they get ready to race their 100-meter time trial. He places the heel of his right foot just inside the start line and then places his left heel against his right toes.
"Place your heel on the inside of the start line," teaches Dotson. "Not the outside or just close to it. Place it on the inside every time!"
As Dotson demonstrates this to the two dozen sprinters who crowd around him, he explains why this is so important.
"These are small things," he explains. "They may seem insignificant but these small things can make a big difference."
Much more than teaching high school kids how to run fast and jump high are going on here at Grandview. On this March afternoon the temps are sprinter warm as they reach into the mid 80s. Despite the heat, the kids listen intently to their coach and he hopes they hear what he says.
"It's about consistency," says Dotson. "It's about doing things the same way every time. You don't want them coming up to their blocks all willy-nilly and different all the time. It's about routine."
Routine is not something familiar to many of these Grandview athletes.
"We have a lot of single-parent moms," says Coach Harvey. "If they are having problems at home, we're gonna come see you. Clean up that nasty bedroom! Clean up that bathroom! Put them dishes away! It's just little things but we as a community need to have our kids focus on these things. It's not just about athletics."
This theme of taking pride in what you do off the track is omnipresent in the Grandview track program. In the weeks I spent with the GHS team this spring, I observed as much teaching about life as I did the proper technique for taking a relay handoff or the optimum stride technique when sprinting around a curve.
"The main thing is that focus of accountability and being respectable," explains Coach Harvey. "Knowing that wherever you go, people are going to look at you with a higher standard. When people see Grandview, I don't want to see us doing something out of character. A lot of people may think of Grandview and think of something different but Grandview is a great community."
Angie Annelus is a Grandview graduate and one of the state's most decorated sprinters. Her rare talent has her running for UCLA now as a sophomore. I asked Angie to explain why Grandview's track program is so successful.
"Everyone is on the same page from the first practice until the final meet," said Annelus. "We all have the same goal and that is to win state. We want to be part of that legacy and tradition that is Grandview track."
Angie spoke highly of her coaches, especially Coach Bedwell who she recalls as a positive female role model for herself and the other girls on the team.
"All the coaches take their time and they make sure to shape the program around the athlete rather than force the athlete to conform to a standard," said Angie. "The coaches make sure every athlete has a chance to be on the track team. If you need a ride home, they'll make sure you have one."
When I told Angie I heard Coach Harvey kidding with one of his girl hurdlers that he didn't want to see her talking to any boys, she laughed and replied, "That's Coach Harvey. Coach Harvey would always listen to your problems but he wasn't there to sympathize. He practiced tough love. Coach Harvey was like a dad figure to the team."
Coach Harvey does not exude warmth when you first meet him. I got the feeling he was sizing me and my camera up as he watched me from across the track on my first trip to a Grandview practice last month.
Kentwan Blackstock, a senior high jumper who Grandview will depend on to score some valuable points at state next month, caught Coach Harvey's eye as he was in the high jump pit and Harvey worked the hurdlers 50 yards away.