Rockets benefiting from strong feeder program

Yaneek Smith

Press Sports Editor

The coaches of the Oak Harbor Junior High’s track and field teams are the unsung heroes that help to build a strong foundation for the high school program.
The group of head coaches, led by Eric Buckman, and the rest of the staff — which includes Tracie Branum, Dan Yoder and Alexa Weis, a former Rocket standout — has worked tirelessly to get the athletes ready for high school. It’s paid off with Oak Harbor getting plenty of competitors in recent years to Columbus while winning a bevy of Sandusky Bay Conference championships.
This year, the boys and girls teams both won the Bay Division titles in the Rockets’ final season in the SBC, and took sixth at the state tournament, which includes all of the participating schools in Ohio — there are no divisions. (From now on, Oak Harbor will compete as a member of the Northern Buckeye Conference.)
On the girls’ side, the 4x800 meter relay team — which consisted of Olivia Cherry, Kendall Gaines, Kennedy Slates and Skylar Schultz — finished second in 10 minutes, 04.17 seconds. The 4x400 relay team of Cherry, Gaines, Slates and Olivia May was third in 4:16.05. And Slates finished fifth in the 800 in 2:25.24.
On the boys’ side, Matthew Hubans was eighth in the discus with a throw of 145, two inches, and Colton Spencer was 17th in the 100 hurdles in 16.64.
“We just have depth all throughout (the programs). We have great kids coming in. Olivia Cherry and Kennedy Slates, they were running under 1:10 in the 400 before we were even practicing. I’ve never had that in my time before. Both of those girls are the level of Hope Sievert,” said Buckman of one of the all-time great Rockets. “Olivia and Kennedy, I haven’t had kids like that. Kids pushing you, that brings up your level (of performance).”
The boys team had some stars, too.
“Zach Hallett, Turner Hayes, Xavier Hess and Braxton Witt — I think we had a chance to win state in the 4x800 relay, but Zach got hurt,” said Buckman. “They are super strong, the only reason they didn’t place in the state is because Zach got hurt.”
These are the four best distance runners — Olivia, Kennedy, Zach and Turner — that I’ve ever coached. I think Olivia Cherry is going to do cross country this year (in high school), and I think she’s going to be successful. And Olivia May did a really nice job for us.”
Needless to say, it was a competitive group.
“These kids, they want to win, and that’s really a great thing about the program,” said Buckman. “Sometimes you get kids that want to win like Kennedy and Olivia (Cherry) and Zach and Turner — those four kids, there wasn’t a practice where they wanted to lose. Owen Miller, every practice, I’m going to be in the front of the team, he was a senior. They’re just really motivated and it makes it fun as a coach. You know that you are going to have a successful season.”
Oak Harbor High School boys track and field coach Andy Augsburger talked about the importance of the junior high coaches making the sport enjoyable and engaging for the athletes.
“I think part of it is that you’re trying to get a good feeder program, and if the kids are having fun, they want to come back and stay with it. The junior high program has really taken force the last couple years because we’ve had good coaches that make it fun for the kids,” said Augsburger. “Another part of junior high track it just takes the kids to come out and then they realize there are 15-17 events that they can try. Part of the reason the junior high program has been so good, the coaches have really tried to make it fun. It’s been exciting watching them, they’ve had quite a bit of success.”
Augsburger talked about the coaches that have lent their time and efforts to the program.
“There’s Eric Buckman, Tracie Branum, Dan Yoder and Alexa Weis. Some of the previous coaches like John Lucas were there when we had a breakout season in 2011 or ’12, and that was a central part of the program,” said Augsburger. “I want to say he was there in the next five to six years. He came up with us for a few years in high school before he moved on to Perrysburg.
“Tiffany Rogers was the coach for 12 years, or Cole Heffernan and my wife, Ashley, helped out, too. Tiffany resigned and she put in so much time and she made it fun for the kids. That coaching group has done such a good job. It’s hard to find good coaches, and they have to relate to the kids and make it fun for them. I think we had 75 to 80 kids in both programs the last few years alone. I think we have 120 to 130 kids in a graduating class. John (McKitrick) and I do our best with the seventh and eighth graders to think about track.”


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