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Preps

Rounding up athletes paying off for Pirates

Numbers are up, as coaches look high and low for new recruits.

By KRISTEN LEIGH PORTER
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 9, 2003


CRYSTAL RIVER -- When Tim Byrne, then a Crystal River track and field assistant, first approached Chris Bunch about coming out, he was not successful. Bunch, a promising basketball and football player, did not run his freshman year.

"He was in my class and I was like, "Chris, you've got to think about running' and he was like "Yeah, yeah, yeah,"' Byrne recalled. "I just kept talking to him and in the fall of last year, he finally said he'll try it."

Bunch, now a junior, would go on to finish sixth in the 400 at the Class 2A state meet.

It is that kind of recruiting that Byrne and fellow first-year head coach Ron Cline, of the girls team, have made a priority this season.

Although in recent years the program has had trouble attracting numbers, roughly 55-60 boys and the same number of girls have signed up this season. Early turnout has been promising, even though girls soccer finished up only Wednesday and boys soccer and basketball is still competing.

"Right now we have more kids out than we had last year after the sports let out," Byrne said. "I want them to work hard. Coach Cline and I are both after that, but we're trying to develop interest. To get them out there and let them know that track and field can be fun."

The two are most happy with the number of freshman competitors.

"Word's getting around," Cline said. "I think the kids are opening up to the fact we're going to spend time with them, pay them some attention, care about them. If we get the kids involved and they get confidence in what they're doing they'll get excited and want to try more."

The pair has had help from all the coaches in the school, who have been pushing their athletes to develop an interest in track and field. Byrne said running is pretty much the basis for every sport.

"It keeps them in shape," said Byrne, who coaches cross country. "It certainly can help the spring football kids because we're working on the speed development. Boys and girls soccer can learn from it. Even basketball with the vertical jumping. We're trying to really put the emphasis on what they can get out of the sport if they put everything into it."

Byrne would know. While coaching at Lecanto, Byrne's boys teams won the 4A state championship in cross country in 1994 and took second in track and field in 1995. Cline started coaching track in 1972 and has put in the same number of years as he has with football, with stops at Citrus, Lecanto and Hernando leading to his current status as a Pirate assistant.

Technically, Byrne is the boys coach and Cline is the girls coach, but they will work together along with boys assistant Rod Smith and girls assistant Laura Shirley.

Helping with the shot put and discus athletes will be Sean Cassese, the girls weightlifting and assistant football coach. Cassese brought a bunch of his weightlifters and offensive linemen. He has about 12 throwers and expects more.

"I get to keep an eye on them," Casesse joked. "A lot of kids have never been coached before and need to learn technique."

They have the right teacher in Casesse, who threw the shot in junior college and was the New York state regional champion and qualified for nationals.

With a number of promising newcomers and talented returnees such as Bunch in the mix, both boys and girls squads should be competitive. Cline said the Pirates would like to draw on the success of the other county schools.

"Track is a sport you've got to love doing or love the fear of the unknown," Cline said. "So many of them who come out and want to run and then you encourage them to jump or sprint. Once they do it, they get hungry for it. We've seen all the kids in this county that have done that."

-- Kristen Leigh Porter can be reached at porter@sptimes.com or 564-3628.

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