As the defending Big Nine Conference champions, there is almost no weaknesses on the Owatonna boys track and field team.
A case can be made however, that the strength, if not figuratively then literally, lies with those who exert their power in a sport that dates back to 776 B.C. in ancient Greece.
A seasoned varsity squad comprised of mostly juniors and seniors, the throwers for Owaotnna have had early success this season. Through two meets, both of which were held at OHS, last year’s All-Conference performer Darik Elstad has taken the top spot in both the shot put and discus while seniors Ethan DeKam and Chandler Buckhalter both added top five finishes in the shot put.
Buckhalter also placed fourth in both meets in the discus. Senior Cole Bergeman and juniors Andy Jensen, Terrell Conner and Ben Stelter are slated to compete throughout the season on the varsity as well. Although, walking by a typical throwing practice, it would be easy to shrug off the sport as ‘easy’ or often lazy.
Not this team.
Boasting nearly 25 years of coaching experience, 19 being spent at OHS, coach Jerry Eggermont makes sure that the two hours he has with his team are spent trying to improve.
“It’s so sweet and it’s so special to be amongst a bunch kids who are so focused,” commented Eggermont Wednesday during practice. “We have a thrower’s creed that talks about polishing one another through encouragement, through fellowship and practice.”
That creed, which Elstad noted has been in place for roughly the past four seasons, is actually a biblical verse that implies building character through comradery.
“Iron sharpens iron as one man sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17.
By the way Eggermont conducts his practices and how his team operates; it’s quite simple to see how it was adopted. Often dealing with upwards of twenty athletes a practice, the veteran coach operates in pods or groups.
These groups allow for adequate time for one-on-one coaching opportunities to really break down each individual’s technique, which Buckhalter believes is arguably the biggest component to being successful in the sport.
“You can be big and strong, but you’re not going to go far if you’re not coachable and you’re not disciplined in drilling,” added the senior.
Despite implementing groups, Eggermont noted that with the amount of depth the overall team has, it still becomes a challenge to get to every athlete in a session.
That is when they apply the creed.
Leaning on seniors Ethan DeKam, Cole Bergeman, Buckhalter and Elstad, the student will often become the teacher or in the words of the creed, will be the one man that sharpens another.
While it may seem crazy that an athlete - who could be still in the stages of developing the proper technique – coaches his teammate, Eggermont believes that teaching it means you should be able to apply it to your own work.
“If you can coach it, you can do it,” he added. “If you can’t coach the positions, then you can’t do it. So the whole philosophy is ‘everyone is a coach, everybody is a teacher out here and to put those kids first.”
For Elstad, who has been on the varsity since he was in seventh grade, having the ability to directly impact his teammates means so much more than even his own success.
“I would rather sit here and coach all these guys for three hours than throw 65 feet in the state meet because that means all those guys are one percent better,” he added.
Although, the senior also noted that when Eggermont happens to make his way to you, that in one way or another you will learn something.
“I think he’s one of the best in the state,” he added. “He knows his stuff.”
Having to be critical on a teammate, who may also be a good friend, could create tension. Although, Buckhalter and Elstad stated it rarely happens because of the family-like bond that has been developed.
Elstad took it one step further by saying that when at away meets, they often bring a portable grill simply because it takes a little under two hours to complete both events, allowing for plenty of time to relax and have a good time.
While It’s certainly easy to say that two top five finishes – along with a pair of first place finishes – this early in the season bodes well for the hopeful future success; Eggermont noted by following the creed, that success is not always about placing.
“Success in this program isn’t always dictated by the tape measure,” he added. “It’s about how good of a teammate you are and how well you do things and serve. You may not be remembered as one of those 60-foot throwers, but you’re going to be remembered for a lot longer in this life about how you served, coach and put others before you.”
Owatonna will be in action Friday in Stillwater.