By Jeff Nations
It's a fairly common sight during the high school track and field season to see Central coach Rick Lytton huddled together with fellow coaches Glenn Proctor of Strasburg and Dick Krol of Stonewall Jackson.
All longtime coaches for Shenandoah County schools, the trio has had decades to get acquainted now.
"The three of us were talking together at a meet, and [Central throws coach] Mike Yew comes over and mentions something about 100 years of coaching experience that we have combined," Lytton said with a chuckle. "He said he didn't know if he's worthy of being in our company."
The good-natured rivalry goes back for years, and each of the three has had their moments on top. This season, it was once again Lytton's turn to rule the roost. The Falcons swept the annual Shenandoah County meet, and Lytton's boys won the Bull Run District meet and produced the highest team finishes at both the Region B and Group A state competitions this year. For that performance, Lytton is the Northern Virginia Daily's 2013 Boys Track and Field Coach of the Year.
"Things fell together," Lytton said. "It did turn out rather well."
Heading into this season, Lytton did have some high expectations for the Falcons. On the boys side, reigning state champion hurdler Justin Bauserman led a cast with a good deal of experience and plenty of promise. The ingredients were there, then, but that didn't mean Lytton just stood back and watched his prized pupils perform on the track.
Take, for example, Bauserman and teammate Brandon Ritter. The dynamic pair of hurdlers, a real strength for the Falcons this season, could possibly have been largely left to their own devices as Lytton focused on some of the weaker elements of his team.
"He comes over and he pushes us in the hurdles," Bauserman said. "He's always telling us what to do, giving us workouts, sticking right there and making sure we do it. Oh yeah, he pushes us -- he makes us do an 800 hurdles. They're called gut-busters. It's just full-on ... yeah, it's awful.
"But it helps. It gets your endurance up. You can't stop. He does not like it when you stop."
Lytton has plenty of practice as motivator and technical expert. He started coaching junior varsity track at Central 38 years ago, and served as an assistant on the varsity level for John Lee. When Lee left, Lytton was asked to take over the boys varsity program. That was 30 years ago. He added coaching the girls squad 22 years ago.
"I told them I'd give it a try," Lytton said of his long-ago acceptance of the boys' varsity position. "It's been a long while now that I've been trying it."
This season, Bauserman and fellow junior Josh Gum did much of the heavy lifting for Central. Bauserman swept the hurdles events at the Bull Run District meet, and Gum did the same in the throws as the Falcons captured the boys title.
But Central had plenty of contributors up and down the lineup, from Ritter in the hurdles to Logan Patrick in middle distance and a district-winning 1,600 relay of Daniel Molina, Patrick, Ritter and Bauserman.
"It met my expectations," Lytton said. "I knew in the district we had the possibility of being pretty good. Then, for some reason, we had a couple kids from last year who decided not to come out. We had some other kids come through for us."
The Falcons came agonizingly close to repeating as champions the following week at the Region B meet. Needing a fourth-place finish in the 1,600 relay -- Central was seeded second -- the Falcons instead finished fifth to get nipped by a point by Dan River.
Still, Lytton made sure that disappointment didn't linger for his squad. Central's state qualifiers had to be ready to compete the following week in the Group A state meet, and indeed they were. Bauserman led a solid day for Central by successfully defending his state title in the 300 hurdles and taking seventh in the 110 hurdles, Ritter was a surprising third in the 110 hurdles, Gum scored a fifth place in the shot put and Travis Cooper was sixth in the discus.
Bauserman, for one, knows he wouldn't be at this level if not for Lytton.
"He's just an amazing coach," Bauserman said. "We don't really have a hurdles coach. He just works with all of us. He works the sprinters, he works with the hurdlers -- he works with everybody.
"I came from nothing to winning the 300 hurdles twice and going to states in three events. He should be the coach of the year. There's not many coaches out there that do that."
Lytton said this year's team compared favorably with some of his best squads from the early to mid 1990s. And despite some graduation losses, much of this talented group will be back next year.
Lytton is looking forward to coaching the returnees and the newcomers, too.
"I love track," Lytton said. "I like to see the kids come out and inevitably, many of them don't think they can run well, or throw well, or jump well. And it's my job to show them that they can do it."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>