Ridgefield High School Summer Practice
In our series of summer practices, we went up to Washington for the first time and met with the Ridgefield Spudders. Ridgefield is in southwest Washington, just north of Vancouver, Washington. Coaches Angela Shields and Ron Homer met their athletes in a forested park called Whipple Creek Regional Park. They ran 500 meter intervals in the park. We asked Coach Shields about their program:
How often do you practice in the summer?
We practice five days a week. Three of them are running days and two of them we do strength in our weight room at the high school. We try to keep up with their maintenance work because we realize with a lot of young runners they get injured so easily. They all think they just want to run, run, run and we found that maintenance work supports their running. On Saturdays they are supposed to be coordinating on their own. It is the captain's run.
What are some fun summer activities?
We go to Montana's high mountain running camp. Pat Tyson (coach at Gonzaga) is there. We have been doing that for the last eight or nine years. Pat has recruited a number of my kids like Kyle Radosevich and he found him there as a freshman and saw him every year.
We kick the summer season off with the chocolate milk mile. We go down to our field where the course is and we mark the quarter on the grass and we have a table with a glass of chocolate milk. After each quarter they drink the milk and run a quarter and drink the milk. That is how we kick summer running off.
Every single Wednesday is a social run. We try to go somewhere, usually in Vancouver, or sometimes Forest Park. We try to highlight a cool running area in Vancouver and we follow it up with a cool activity. The first one was snow cones and the second one we did at Lewisville Park and we did a picnic. There is a rope swing at the park. Then we will go to Frenchman's Bar Park and do a time trial there. There is a beautiful beach and play volleyball. So every Wednesday night is our fun social night.
Another fun thing we do in the summer. I am sure I got it the idea from the Montana camp ... is we do a midnight mile. The very first night when the season starts. We meet down at the course which is down at Abrams Park. We meet down there at midnight and we do a scavenger hunt with our phones. We do a team bonding thing which is like speed dating. They would do a circle thing where they had three minutes to answer three questions. That was really cute, the kids love it and we bring music. Yeah, the midnight mile is a highlight and team camp at Montana. We hadn't been to Montana in a couple of years so we were excited to return.
What is the secret to Ridgefield's success?
When I first started coaching, it just so happened that my daughter was a seventh or eighth grader and she wanted to run. So we started to build the team together and at the time I didn't realize it until now that I haven't had her for a number of years, she brought kids to the team. They were her friends. She would say, 'I am going to talk Rosie into running.' All of a sudden I have fifteen kids at my house for camp fire. They are all talking to me about joining cross country. She really started it.
As it was starting to grow and we were doing all the fun things. The kids realized it was a place to come and be accepted. They felt safe. There is no other sport where everyone comes in and there is no judgement. Some of our best memories with our kids was cheering on our final runner in at your meet (Nike Portland XC). We would just line the course and we would be cheering him in and he is a thirty minute guy. Just to see him accomplish that and realize that this is a life long thing. Then he knows that it made a huge impact to him in his life and he may run forever.
In those years we had more kids than the football team. For a 2A school one year we had 75 kids. Then she graduated and that big group of kids graduated and I had this realization, 'Oh wait, I don't get 75 kids every year? Oh wait, I don't get the state champion?' I was a new coach and I hadn't done it for, like, forever. I didn't know that the success we were having was something we had to work really hard for. When I lost my really two good kids, Silas (Griffith), who won the 2A state meet and Kyle went through and should have won state cross, but at districts he pulled in abdominal muscle and he lost just at the very end. When we lost those two good runners, I realized, 'We don't get good runners like that all the time.' We have to build runners and the last couple of years Covid killed us as it did to everybody. Then after that it has been a struggle to get kids out. Kids went to work. I hardly have any juniors and seniors.
How do you build the culture at Ridgefield?
I was an athlete and I was doing Ironmans. I went to University of Oregon and my degree was in science. I knew what I was doing and I had raced for the last ten years. Raced at Boston. When I came into coaching, I didn't know about coaching a team. I was coaching individuals. The culture almost started to happen without me. The kids started building it. They wanted to do traditions and they wanted to have Waffle Wednesdays so we would bring a waffle maker to the high school and in the stadium. We would make waffles in the morning. Weird things like that started to happening without me. I started noticing, 'Oh, we have a good group of kids. They feel accepted and loved.' All of sudden, family. I was like "Ah, ha!" Family. That is the key to my success is building that family. Pretty soon I had parents on board and they were asking, 'What do you need?' At every meet we would set up camp where everybody brings food. I didn't know that was a thing until a few years in.
I modeled after some pretty good programs too. We all steal from each other, right? I met the Sandpoint, Idaho coaches at Montana and I fell in love with their program and what they do. Derek Slaughter at Cheney, WA had a big impact in my coaching. Hood River, OR, coach Brandon. You just get together with people and you see their energy, their love of the sport and the love of their kids. I just became friends with the tennis coach and she said, 'I have always wanted to model our program after yours.' I started to talk to her about what I do with the kids and some times kids will come over after they graduate and stop over and visit. It is funny how close I got with my athletes. The tennis coach said something to me that kind of clicked, 'I never considered being that close to my kids as a coach.' You just build this personal relationship with the kids and you are their mentor forever. That is the other thing about being a family is being able to build those personal relationships with the athletes. You can be a stand in parent sometimes or brother or sister.
Check out the pictures from Whipple Creek Park HERE