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Success comes quickly for Riverdales young track team

by: file photo Vern Uyetake, 
Riverdale track coach Mark Wechter stands alongside team captains Skylar Grossman and Matt Towsey. The relatively new program has already made waves at the state meet and interest in track has skyrocketed at the school.

There were a lot of teams that finished ahead of Riverdale High School in the recent Class 3A state track meet.

But no school had more success. If there were points awarded for how far a school had come in track, Riverdale would have finished in first place.

Nestled on the doorstep of Lake Oswego on Terwilliger Boulevard, Riverdale had absolutely no history in track. A previous attempt at starting a team had flopped.

As one parent said, 'It was voiced by some adults in the community that there was no talent and no interest in a track team at Riverdale.'

WRONG!

There is now a big team and a lot of interest, and there's talent, too. That was shown when the Maverick tricksters took 17th place at the state meet. Just one notch ahead of them was Lewis and Clark League rival Catlin-Gabel High School.

'I thought we did really well,' said Riverdale's head coach Mark Wechter. 'Catlin-Gabel pretty much wins our district every year.'

Wechter was feeling happy and proud after his 4x400 meter relay team, seeded eighth prior to the state meet, ended up taking third place with the quartet of Skyler Grossman, Matt Towsey, Matt Wolfe and Paul Scrugham. For the girls, Aspen Mayberry qualified for state in the 100 and 200 meter sprints.

There was another thing that Wechter liked, too.

'We had a tent set up to keep us out of the hot sun, just like a lot of teams,' he said. 'I'm looking around and 99 percent of our students were studying and doing their homework. That wasn't the case in the other tents.'

Yes, it's funny how things work out some times. A track team had long been a dream for the nine-year old school.

'Steve Edwards, our previous athletic director, (once a world class high jumper with a best mark of 7-4) had been talking about having a track team for years,' Wechter said. 'But we weren't sure we could get the numbers.'

That was true. The first attempt to start a track team fizzed five years ago because only six students came out for the track team. There was simply too much else going on for a student body of 81.

But the situation changed last year in a rather amazing way. In fact, the ball got rolling with the students themselves.

'About six (led by Skylar Grossman) of them started their own team,' Wechter said. 'They found a coach (Billy McKinney) and ran in a few meets. There was a nucleus of kids that was good about getting more involved.'

Certainly, a bunch of kids so eager to run track deserved to have their own team. And with a strong touch of serendipity, it was done.

For one thing, there was Wechter. Upon meeting him you have to think he is the strongest looking science teacher you've ever seen, and it turns out he was a two-time All-American in the javelin at Western Oregon University.

The discovery of the other coach was sheer luck. A Riverdale Middle School teacher ran into a Nigerian named Wilson Ogbeide working at a nearby Rite Aid. He just happened to have competed in the 400 meters at the Olympics of 1996 and 2000.

Also, this time there was no problem lining up enough athletes, since the school enrollment had risen all the way up to 207 students. Twenty-four of them reported to compete under Wechter and Ogbeide.

'With my background and with Wilson's background, we were able to teach the kids to do the useful things that translate into track,' Wechter said. 'We weren't flying blind. We knew what to do from experience.'

Jody Haagenson, school publicity director, said, 'It was a combination of great coaches and student initiative that drove things.'

The only bad break the team suffered this year is that is lost state caliber sprinter Kelsey Fleenor-Jones, who transferred to another school because she wanted to compete on the Class 6A level. Other than that, all things are go for a much better year in 2009 since Towsey is the only senior. Another reason the Mavericks should be much better is that Wechter has had a full year to work with his weight event people.

'Our goal is to get a lot better,' Wechter said. 'We had some people who improved their javelin throws by 40 feet or more. It takes a couple years to figure out how to do it.'

Things have gone so well that Wechter is down to one wish.

'Of our 24 track athletes, only four of them are girls,' he said. 'We have a very small girls team.'

Wechter shouldn't worry. Things have a way of happening fast with Riverdale High School track.