Madras taking a new approach


Melissa Bowerman takes control of Buff track and field program

by: PIONEER FILE  PHOTO - The Bowermans, Jon, left, and Melissa have a proven track record when it comes to coaching track. They take over a Madras program that wants to be the best it can.Catching lightning in a bottle once is quite a feat. But to do it twice, that takes some a little help and a whole lot of luck.

But Melissa Bowerman is determined to get that second helping and there aren’t many out there that will bet against her. Especially herself.

Bowerman, the first-year coach of the Madras track and field team, has a huge task in front of her: rebuild a program that has not only been down in numbers and quality but has been home to one of the state’s worst facilities. It’s a combination that most would run from, yet Bowerman, along with husband, Jon, have embraced the challenge.

They expect results, quickly and in massive quantities.

And their track record backs them up on that.

The Bowerman name carries a lot of weight in the state of Oregon. Bill Bowerman, Jon’s father, is the legendary coach who made a name for himself coaching track at the University of Oregon and ultimately, ended up co-founding Nike. His resume in the track and field world is more than impressive.

But Jon and Melissa Bowerman have found their own success on the high school coaching level.

They took a program in Fossil that had just six kids out for track and turned it in into a state champion in just three years.

And that is the reason they are now in Madras.

With less than one-third of the school’s population out for sports, it is an uphill battle, but one that the Bowermans take on, willingly.

“The kids that we do have, they are pretty average talent level. We don’t have anybody that is just a ringer,” Bowerman said. “But what Jon and I have done once we’ve gotten into a program is that we do all kinds of rewards. I award them for any positive thing that they do.”

There are wrist bands, dog tags, candy bars and many others prizes that kids can win. The athletes wear them as badges of honor and show them off to fellow classmates. And that’s exactly what Bowerman wants them to do.

“Without ever running a race, there are 28 awards you can win in this program,” Bowerman said. “They are getting rewarded for anything positive.”

It’s a simple concept that seems to work well. Every time a kid sets a personal best time or distance, in a meet or in practice, they are rewarded with a power bar. Improve an inch each day and leave practice with a snack.

Bowerman said it is the best way to instill pride and confidence in a kid that may normally never feel that. It also grows enthusiasm and a desire to accomplish something.

“We try and build excitement and it spreads. And the next year, we are bigger and the next year we are bigger,” Bowerman said. “And then the way we start winning meets is we flood the events. We might have a couple of superstars, but we have three guys in every event and three girls in every event. We flood the events and that’s the way we start winning, with both the boys and the girls.”

It may not seem like much, scoring a point here and maybe three points there, but when you have dozens of athletes doing it, the points really add up.

That’s how the Bowermans found success in Fossil.

But the main focus right now is not individual training but team training. And there is a reason behind that.

For all the team sports in the world, track is one of least team-orientated. Most track athletes are overconcerned with the individual times or distances.

So Bowerman has decided to make track as much a team affair as possible.

The end of the second week of practice saw the team not run or throw but hunt eggs throughout the middle school campus and then engage in a team run through the hills and trails surrounding the area.

“What we do is try and build a program that has a ton of energy and is a very close-knit family,” Bowerman said. “The kids that never win anything usually get just as many dog tags as anyone else.”

Bowerman hears the line every year. Kids say don’t want to run track because they feel they aren’t good enough. Bowerman’s response is always the same: Show up anyway.

“We will find something for them do, we just want them to be a part of what we are doing,” Bowerman said. “So we have a ton of very mediocre kids, but we don’t care because this year is our building year. Next year will hopefully be much bigger.”