July 9th, Saturday, 10:00 p.m.
Coach’s story; how Arizona Running Drills became the stuff of legend at North Hunterdon High School.
Every runner who came through the North Hunterdon track program while I was coaching there from 1974 till 2000 will tell you they remember doing AZ’s . AZ’s are Arizona Running Drills.
In the spring of 1974 many of the coaches at North Hunterdon High School we’re pretty shocked when I was named the new track and field coach. I had been interviewed by the principal, Bill Cromwell, and the former coach. During the interview the coach asked me how would I handle the situation when the fastest runner on the team would not come to practice regularly. My response was that I didn’t understand the question. I told him no athlete would be on the team if they did not come to practice regularly. It didn’t matter if he was the best athlete or the worst athlete. I think Bill liked my answer. Anyhow there I was a head track coach who had never coached before with a team of about 60 runners and jumpers and throwers. I made the decision that I would coach all the varsity runners. My assistants were assigned to coach hurdles jumpers and throwers. I had to face the fact that I had no idea how to coach a sprinter. I had a pretty good background in distance running from high school and college, but I never paid a lot of attention to how to coach a sprinter. So I went to the library to look for some information on how to coach sprinters.
Now as an aside: I have to mention that I had recently arrived from Lincoln High School in Jersey City. In 1970 the Lincoln High School track team had won at the Penn Relays the 440 yard relay and the mile relay. I am pretty sure they are the last US team to ever accomplish that feat. One of their runners, who was the lead off runner for the 440 yard relay championship team, graduated and attended Arizona State University. At the time Arizona state was probably the best college sprint team in America. In 1972 and 1973 Charlie Wells from Lincoln lead off the Arizona State 440 yard relay to a College Championship of America. I did a little research tonight and found out that in 1977 every member of the Arizona State track team that attended the Penn Relays came home with a Penn Relay watch! The ASU mile relay that year ran a world record 3:04 . Their coach, Senon “Baldy” Castillo, is in the National Track and Field Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
So when I found an article in the library that talked about the Arizona State Sprint team, I was naturally intrigued. In the article the coach described the set of running drills that all members of the Sprint team performed every day during practice. I decided to borrow these drills and I labeled them the Arizona Running Drills. My sprinters did Arizona’s everyday. It turned out that they became in very good shape and we had a very good sprint team. Now, we also had a very good distance team. Coach Pat Pinto and Ed Lavin did a marvelous job with the hurdlers, jumpers and throwers. The result was the beginning of what became a strong program for almost three decades. After two years Coach Pinto and Coach Lavin moved to Voorhees High School to start the track and field program at that new school. Not long afterward Bob McGivney became one of my assistant coaches. He was intrigued by the Arizona drills and spoke to me often about their purpose and their success. One day, over one of our meetings at the local pub, Bob asked me why I don’t have my distance runners perform the Arizona running drills like the sprinters do. I told him that they were designed to develop speed. He asked me, ” Don’t you want your distance Runners to be fast.” I answered, “Yes, of course.” And he said, “Then why don’t they do Arizona running drills.” Of course I had no legitimate answer to that question. Shortly thereafter I began to interject the Arizona drills into the program for my distance runners. I was very pleased with the results. From that time forward ‘Arizona’s for everybody’) was the motto at North Hunterdon track and field. Now remember, this was in 1977 or 1978 when I first applied the drills to the distance team, and I believe we were ahead of our time. In the early eighties Mike Paul joined our program as an assistant coach. Michael had recently received his doctorate in exercise physiology. Mike is one of the most knowledgeable coaches I have ever met and his success with athletes throughout New Jersey is widely known . He told me that the reason he joined our program was because we were the only program he found when looking around to become an assistant coach in Central Jersey that was doing running drills, mainly bounding. Bounding is the most difficult and demanding of the drills. It is also the only one that is a plyometric drill.
It makes me proud to say that numerous running coaches, track fans and parents commented to me over the years that many of my runners had the same running form; that they ran smoothly and with efficiency and with power . I believe that the Arizona Running Drills are big part of the reason that is true . Today running drills are a regular part of almost every High School distance running program, and every article or book on distance running includes reference to some form of running drills.
” Grace of motion is a function of power.”