Coaches’ partnership pays many dividends

By Jeff Nations

You can bet there have been a few nicknames floated out there for the longtime partnership between Stonewall Jackson High School track and field coaches Dick Krol and Debbie Ritchie.

Recent graduate Ashton Davis had her own version to describe her coaches.

“The dynamic duo, that’s them,” Davis said. “Mr. Krol, he’s the stern one. He’ll get on you to work hard. Ms. Ritchie is the nice one.”

Davis is only being half-serious, really — Krol and Ritchie are much more than Stonewall’s version of “good cop, bad cop.” Their partnership has long proven fruitful for the Generals’ track and field program, and it truly makes them inseparable. That’s why Krol and Ritchie are The Northern Virginia Daily’s 2014 Girls Track and Field Co-Coaches of the Year.

Ritchie technically coaches the girls team at Stonewall, and Krol has the boys squad. That’s not really how they operate the program, though — Ritchie coaches the throwers, Krol has the sprinters and jumpers and assistant coach Mary Clanahan takes care of the distance runners.

There’s a bit more to it, though.

“If there’s a problem or an issue with a girl, coach Ritchie is the one they go to,” Krol said. “It makes it a lot easier when you have someone like her to work with.”

“I do a lot of the feelings things, yes,” Ritchie confirmed with a chuckle.

Their relationship — Ritchie admits she can finish Krol’s sentences by this point, and vice versa — goes back 27 years.

It’s been a successful formula, and this year’s state competition showed that it still works just fine for Stonewall Jackson. The Generals, with a modest collection of girls athletes qualified to compete, tallied a combined four all-state performances in Radford as nearly every girls athlete the school brought earned at least one all-state award.

“Coach Krol will tell you he has nothing to do with the kids doing well, but clearly he does,” Ritchie said. “He’s such a motivator. He amazes me every day, what he can put together and what he gets out of the kids.”

Krol’s specialties ruled the day for Stonewall at the state competition this year. Davis was a big part of that, as she posted personal bests in the 400 to finish second and the triple jump to finish seventh.

Davis credits a conversation with Krol with getting her through some self-doubt during the season.

“I wanted to get under 60 in my 400, and it took me nearly all season but I did it,” Davis said. “It was really frustrating to me, and I did a lot of crying and worrying about why I wasn’t improving. Mr. Krol sat me down and had a talk with me. After that, I got my head on straight and started improving.”

Davis also ran the anchor leg on the Generals’ 1,600 relay — Krol’s favorite event — and combined with Amanda Dotson, Cheyenne Crigger and Cheyanne Green to post an all-state (top eight) finish with their seventh-place effort.

Dotson had the final all-state performance for the Generals, finishing sixth in the 300 hurdles with her best time of the season.

Krol has no magic formula for continually getting the best out of athletes.

“Every group of kids that come along is different,” Krol said. “Every group has to be treated different. Kids are changing, and you have to change a little bit with them.”

One thing that won’t change for Krol and Ritchie — the relationship they’ve spent decades forming as they’ve led Stonewall’s track and field program to impressive successes over the years.

Contact staff writer Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or jnations@nvdaily.com