Boys' Track Preview: A NEW HOPE
By BRANDON HURLEY
Greene County’s Chad Morton has been here before, metaphorically, albeit in a strikingly different situation.
This time, he has the tools, the athletes and the support of a community behind him. The newest Ram boys’ track head coach brings with him an extensive track background, as a state-champion athlete, a pioneer and a well-respected official.
Morton won a handful of titles as a high school athlete at CAL-Latimer in the late 80s, but really cut his teeth engineering the high school track program in Urbana, Missouri and holding track stars accountable.
Thankfully, Greene County is already well-established, with a slew of consistent state qualifiers in tow, and a vibrant enthusiasm for the next step. That’s where Morton’s experience comes into play, taking over for the departed Dean Lansman, ending a nearly two-decade run as a Drake Relays and state official to take over the reins of a transitioning program.
Morton has dabbled within the Greene County athletic department as a football assistant and a girls’ and boys basketball coach for the past 15 years, which would seem like a head coaching position is a natural fit, but the decision was much more difficult than that.
After more than 10 years out of the track coaching profession for his foray into officiating, Morton was feeling the itch to return. He’s a track guy down to his core, even running for Graceland College in his interscholastic days following high school. Taking the Greene County job came after a long deliberation with his athletically orientated family.
“It was really a hard decision. I sat down with my family and talked to them about whether my kids (Carter, who’s a sophomore, and Jackson) wanted me to coach or not. If I really wanted to give up what I built up so far in officiating,” Morton said. “When it came down to it, I talked to other officials and other coaches and they gave me advice. I went with it. I thought, you know someday, if I decide to go back to officiating, I can always do that. But right now, I have an opportunity and if I let it pass by, I may not ever get it again.”
The familiarity of working with kids he may have mentored in other sports is a double edged sword, of sorts, Morton said. He knows what’s at his disposal, but their comfort level with the lead man could make it more challenging as well. But first and foremost, Morton’s enthusiasm for the sport is never in doubt.
“I think it helps because they see me in the weight room, they see me in other sports and I think they know me. I think they know track is a passion of mine,” the coach said. “From just over time, they know that track’s been important to me. But I don’t know if they ever saw me in a (head) coaching position, but I think so far so good.”
The cupboards aren’t bare, talent, and experienced athletes at that, return for the 2018 Ram squad.
The senior-laden trio of Logan Lansman, Chase Stoline and Nick Schroeder left their mark on the program, but Greene County must look to a new throng of veteran leaders.
Sophomore Carter Morton qualified for the state high jump as a freshman, breaking the school high jump record, which now sits at 6-02, a full four inches higher than where it was a few months prior. The younger Morton won state-qualifying gold in Denison and parlayed that into a 18th-place finish at state, clearing 5-10 on his first jump at Drake Stadium.
Greene County drops to 2A this spring after spending the last several seasons up in 3A. Kuemper’s Miles Rupiper captured the 2A high jump title, clearing 6-06 while no other athlete cleared better than 6-02.
Now sophomore Colby Kafer made the difference as a late addition to the 4x100-meter relay team last spring, helping propel the Greene County quartet to the state meet.
The Rams return a slew of middle-distance and long-distance runners while looking to a new wave of sprinters. Kolin Reed made some noise in the high jump a season ago while Xavier Hayes caused a stir in the long jump as a freshman as well. Clint Dennhardt played a pivotal role in the 200-meter last spring and is off to a hot start this spring, setting a personal record over the weekend (25.41) while Kafer secured his first gold medal of the spring, winning the long jump (19-05) at the Buena Vista University High School Elite Invite this past Saturday.
Despite the various areas of inexperience, coach Morton has pushed his guys to a scorching start during indoor meets in Ames and Storm Lake, compiling a handful of top 10 finishes in the all-class competitions.
“I’m more of a glass half full type guy, so I’m really excited,” he said. “But I also understand that kids are kids and I don’t know all the other teams yet. I know the kids are excited and we will get the best we can out of our kids.”
In his first year at the helm, Morton expects to make a strong run at the state meet and the Drake Relays (April 25-28) in Des Moines. As the season begins to pick up, Morton continues to feel out exactly how much talent he has at his disposal. It’s all about putting his athletes – and Greene County – in the best position to succeed.
“I want to take their strengths and make that the strength of our team,” Morton said. “I know every kid’s got a certain race they may like to run and I want them to be able to run and do things that they like to do, but there are also things that they may have to do in order to help the team as well.
I want them to buy in but also know that my expectations are to do what’s best for the team.”
Morton and Greene County girls’ track coach Derek Merk find their selves in a unique position, both tasked with transitioning the program as Merk takes over for long-time coach Kelly Simpson. It’s something Morton has taken notice of, which could benefit him in the short term.
“Coach Merk’s been great to work with. He has a lot of track knowledge,” Morton said. “He’s got a lot of experience and a lot of things we’ve talked about together, we we agree on. So I think we’re going to help each other in our programs.. We’ll have our coaches help the boys and the girls in those positions and hopefully we can help each other with our strengths and make both our teams as strong as they can be.”
The Ram Relays are set for Monday, April 16 before they close out the year hosting the Heart of Iowa Conference co-ed meet, Thursday, May 2.
The Greene County track in Jefferson will play host to a Carroll High co-ed track meet this spring as the Carroll Athletic Stadium endures a multi-million dollar construction project.
The Tigers will host a meet April 9 with the likes of Greene County, Audubon, IKM-Manning, Perry and Woodward-Granger.
The annual state meet will take place May 17-19 at Drake Stadium in Des Moines.