Waterville High School track and field coach Ian Wilson deflects credit when it comes to the championships his teams have enjoyed during both the indoor and outdoor seasons. But he’s been the driving force behind the Purple Panthers’ success since taking over in the late 1990s.
The Waterville girls are a solid favorite at this weekend’s Class B state championships at Cony High School in Augusta. A win would give the team its fourth straight state championship. Under Wilson, the Waterville girls won a state Class A championship in 2002 as well as indoor titles 2000-02 and 2011.
“The girls look to be in a strong position,” Wilson said. “The guys have a good chance [although] I would say Falmouth in probably the favorite.”
Wilson has built the program through hard work and enthusiasm for his sport. Since he began, Waterville’s enrollment has dropped from 850 students to about 600 and the team dropped to Class B in 2006 in outdoor track after petitioning up to Class A for several years.
“We were so far below the cutoff [for Class A],” Wilson explained.
The number of participants remains high, however, particularly at the junior high level where there are between 70 and 90 kids out for track.
“I really try to beat the bushes and try to encourage kids to give it a shot,” Wilson said. “Once they see the benefits, they’ll stick it out. If they start to experience success, you get them back for another year.”
Wilson said he had no master plan when he started, but he did build gradually, first focusing on winning regular season meets, followed by conference championships.
“Then you can focus on state championships,” he said.
These days, state championships are the goal, although the Panthers haven’t lost a regular season meet in some time. Wilson has no problem resting his athletes for the big meets, however.
“Once kids have faith in the program, you can rest,” he said.
Once Wilson gets the athletes, he and his staff knows how to train and motivate them. In a place deep inside the school known as “The Cage,” Wilson often has his athletes lay on a cement floor and pretend they’re at the beach while visualizing their events and their performance.
Skepticism soon turned into enthusiasm once they saw the results.
“Track is a sport you don’t have to work at from age 5,” Wilson said. “It’s a combination of personality and physical skills.”
Certain personality traits favor particular events Wilson said.
“If you want to find distance runners go into the AP classes and get the skinny kid,” he said. (They) tend to be cerebral kids.”
Wilson, who also coached the girls soccer team to State Class A title in 2009, borrows kids from other sports for his track team. All of the throwers on the boys team come from the football team, he said, while sprinters and hurdlers often have soccer and basketball backgrounds.
Wilson and one of his assistants work with the sprints, jumps and throws while another works with distance runners and another with throwers.
“That really seems to work well,” he said. “Sometimes too many cooks spoil the stew.”
Although all events are covered evenly, Waterville has always produced excellent results in the hurdles, an event where improved technique can earn valuable tenths and hundredths of seconds. Wilson is continually trying to improve himself as a coach, too, attending clinics and seminars each summer
“The best thing I ever did was get involved in the USATF coaching courses,” he said. “I began going and realized I knew very little. Those people are incredible. They’ll share anything with you.”
Waterville success in track and field hasn’t precluded championships in other sports. The baseball team won a state title last spring and is favored to repeat this year and the girls basketball team won three state titles while the indoor track teams continued to thrive.
The regular season ended this week with conference titles scheduled for the weekend and tournament play to begin next week.
In Class A, Cheverus is the top-seeded team in the West, thanks to Tuesday’s 6-2 win against Westbrook. Both teams are 14-2. In the East, Lewiston, at 15-1, is seeded No. 1. Foxcroft Academy (15-0), which competes in Class C East, was the only baseball team inthe state to finish the regualr seaosn unbeaten.
8. Cape Elizabeth
10. St. Dominic
BATTLE OF THE UNBEATENS
Four teams finished the regular season unbeaten including defending Class A champion South Portland and defending Class D champ Richmond. Georges Valley, in Class C West, and Fryeburg, in Class B, also went undefeated.
1. South Portland