Bruins crew reaches pinnacle with state meet

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They’ve worked some big meets over the past few high school track and field seasons but none has been bigger — yet — than the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 2-A/4-A championships Saturday for the four Beddingfield High coaches who ran the meet.

“One thing is that it was honor to be selected to do it,” said Beddingfield boys head coach James Ward, who served as director for the state meet at Irwin Belk Track on the campus of North Carolina A&T State University. “That comes with a lot of respect from our peers and from people around the state. We try to do it right and, especially down east, there’s not many coaches from down east who go to the rules certification (clinics) and stuff like that. So definitely to represent our conference and eastern North Carolina is a great honor for us. But on that scale, you’re trying to combine coaches to work at and officiate events from all over and a lot of what you’re going on is recommendations from other coaches.”

Ward and his trusty crew — girls head coach Joe Dvozenja, throws coach Craig Herring and distance coach Kelly Vinson — had been there before. The foursome directed the first super regional in NCHSAA history when they managed the 2-A/3-A East Regional meet at Fike High two years ago. They did it again May 12 at the University of Mount Olive for the 2-A/3-A East Regional.

It can be a daunting task, running a meet with more than 50 teams and around a thousand competitors. But Ward has the horses to pull it off with Dvozenja, Herring and Vinson, along with Beddingfield cross-country Ryan Reich, who wasn’t at Saturday’s state championship meet.

“Yes, sir! I won’t go nowhere without them!” Ward assured. “We’ve got an excellent meet management staff.”

Dvozenja said the success of a meet depends on the management team working well together.

“The four of us do a great job together and we all have our strengths,” he said. “We have a great camaraderie.”

Ward takes immense pride in running meets on time. The state meet Saturday finished a little after 6 p.m., not bad considering that there were a few showers early in the day. The biggest problem caused by rain was in the shot put circle at Belk.

“The shot put was like Hominy Swamp almost!” Ward said.

But with some help from NCHSAA officials, the meet stayed on schedule.

“The NCHSAA did a great job of getting everything ready,” he said. “Everything dried out and then we got rained on as soon as we were about to start and it rained for probably a good hour. It rained through all the prelims.”

Dvozenja said that the super regional meets were probably a little more difficult to run, especially the first one at Fike in 2016, because there’s more help available at the state meet.

“It went a lot smoother because we already had a plan,” Dvozenja said. “The first one we went into it pretty much blind because we had never done it.”

The plan, Ward explained, is a proprietary formula.

“The super regionals were definitely challenging, especially the first time we did it,” Ward said, “but we kind of got a blueprint that we don’t want anybody else to hold because we’ve kind of got a secret, a blueprint to the time schedule for everything, which is different from the actual schedule the public sees.”

There’s a lot to deal with at any track meet — such as having the hurdles set up properly or making sure athletes don’t miss their events — but as Dvozenja said, it’s all about preparation and being able to handle problems as they arise.

“If anything goes wrong you try to smooth it out the best you can,” he said.

For Ward, that means being in a state of constant flux. It also means having his team prepared because, as any track coach will tell you, coaching your athletes is tough when you’re involved with running the meet. No other sport asks its coaches to serve as officials.

“Our kids are so used to running in the big meets and just being team leaders,” Ward said. “A lot of times we drive our kids (to meets) and they don’t see us again unless they’ve got to go find us. I don’t remember the last time I went to a meet and coached one of my kids. Really, I don’t.”

So it comes down to having the kids ready on meet days.

“That comes from coaching our kids throughout the week because my kids know I’ve got a saying I use: ‘The hay is in the barn,’” Ward said. “Once we get to meet days, I can’t help you no more! If you’re not ready, it’s too late.”

Ward credited DePaul Pittman, whom he called “the godfather of track in eastern North Carolina,” along with Alton Tyre and Glenn Reaves for teaching him what he has learned about being a track coach and running a meet.

“I’ve learned a lot from him and people like Alton Tyre, who used to be at Southern Nash,” Ward said. “They’re like role models for me in track and field — and Glenn Reaves, too. It all started with having Reaves as my principal. That’s the blueprint to it. He’s got a book that we call ‘The Track Bible.’”

Ward and Dvozenja both expressed the hope that the Beddingfield track will be surfaced soon and the school can go back to host conference and regional meets. But what can be bigger than a state meet for the Beddingfield crew? Leave it to Ward to find out.

“If Ward thinks we can do it, we can do it!” Dvozenja said.