High Jump Whisperer Kerry Elders Works Wonders With CHS Athletes - Coronado Eagle & Journal | Coronado News | Coronado Island News: Coronado Island News

High Jump Whisperer Kerry Elders Works Wonders With CHS Athletes

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Posted: Friday, June 1, 2018 12:36 pm

One of the many interesting elements at Coronado High School (CHS) are the successes of the Islander sports teams, despite having an enrollment that averages just over 1,000 students. On a per capita basis over the past two decades, no single sports discipline has had the sustained success enjoyed by the high jumpers who compete for the Islander Track Team. It’s no coincidence that Kerry Elders has been the high jump coach at Coronado for that entire time.

Born at Camp Pendleton, raised in Oakhurst in Northern California, Elders and his family moved to Fresno in 1968. A track athlete since second grade, the 6-foot, 2.5-inch Elders also played football and basketball. Elders said of his hoops career, “I love basketball and fell in love with it, but when I started I couldn’t breathe and dribble at the same time. By my senior year in high school, I was a starter on a good team. I was offered scholarships from the University of Tennessee and Cal Berkeley for basketball. Track was a natural thing for me, but basketball, I had to work pretty hard at that.”

Specifically, in track Elders was a high jumper and a really good one. Fortunately for him, American Dick Fosbury invented the Fosbury Flop, which revolutionized the sport. “In 1968, I remember watching Fosbury jump in the Olympics and I was a freshman in high school,” Elders said. “I found out that I could instinctually jump backwards instead of straddling, which was the common technique at the time. I was known as the Fresno Flopper and I made it to the State Meet. It just came naturally to me and slowly everybody started to jump backwards. I had no coaching in high school, ever. Nobody knew what to do with me. And there was no weight training. I didn’t have any coaching until college.”

By his senior year in 1971, Elders had jumped 6 feet, 10.5 inches to set the Fresno High School record, a mark he still holds and is confident won’t be broken. Another record he holds is in the shuttle hurdle relay, where four hurdlers run 100 yards, much like a relay race in swimming. Since the event was held in yards as opposed to meters, and competition in the hurdle relay isn’t held in meets anymore, there is an additional record for Elders that will stand the test of time.

At the end of his senior year, Elders went to the State meet where he finished second to future Olympian Dwight Stones, who won the state title with a jump of 7 feet, 1.5 inches. Elders placed second at 6-9. Elders said, “I saw Dwight a couple of years ago at a meet and we went over old times. He and I competed several times in high school and he remembered all of the competitions. I like to think I pushed him to a California State record at the time.”

Elders continued his track career at Fresno City College, where he ultimately raised his personal record from 7 feet, to 7-2. Elders recalled, “There were about 10 people in the stands when I jumped 7-2 and it was really warm in Fresno. That was a mark that I had been trying to reach for a very long time. There was a feeling of elation. To progress from 7-0 to 7-2 took a couple of years. Adding inches in high jumping is usually very incremental.” Since the 7-foot high jump was first accomplished in 1956, you would have to assume the number of people in history who have cleared the height is relatively small, with even fewer jumping over 7-2.

Unfortunately Elders high-jumping career came to an end due to an injury. “I tore the ligaments in my left leg on my approach and takeoff while high jumping in the rain. I was jumping with one-half inch spikes on a wet, synthetic track surface.”

After a year at Colorado State University and a stint in the Army, Elders relocated to Maui to work with his father in landscaping and maintenance. But the lure of track brought Elders into coaching, and he later became the head track coach at Maui High School. By 1993, Elders had relocated to Coronado and shortly thereafter started coaching with Islander Head Track Coach George Green. Elders said of Green, “He’s incredible at what he does. I can’t give enough kudos to George.”

By 2005, Elders had established a cadre of athletes which included Jamie Klages, Reid McLean, Adam Munns and a year later Sarah Player was added to the mix. Elders said of the aptly named ‘Kerry’s Crew,’ “Klages and Munn advanced to the state meet that year. I was working with that group before the current track was built. Every day we had to haul out the high jump pits onto the grass, along with 4x8 foot rubberized mats for our jumping surface. They named the high jump pit ‘Betsy’ and it was very hard for me to see them go when they graduated. Not to mention how incredibly talented Klages was. Adam was an inch off the school record and then we threw Sarah into the mix and she was an easy-going, happy, phenomenal athlete. Reid won the Division II high jump at 6-2. Sometimes with that group, it was hard to get anything done.”

In the 20 years I have been covering CHS sports, Klages is the best multi-sport athlete I have seen compete for the Islanders. She was a standout in volleyball, soccer and track. In addition, she had a brief flirtation with varsity basketball and trust me, she could have been a multi-letter winner in that sport as well.

“Jamie was fifth in the state as a junior in the high jump,” Elders recalled. “She had amazing athletic ability and she high-jumped 5-10.25 in 2005. The high jump is like a dance and there is rhythm to it. It’s hard to put the whole package together to get the final steps down. Once that happens, something clicks. Jamie worked on her approach for two and one-half years before she got it down. Once she did, the flow of her jumping was just beautiful.”

Fast forward a few years and Elders started working with current CHS junior Ruthie Grant-Williams when she was just eight years old. “I coached her for a couple of days when she was a teeny-tiny girl. Then I got a glimpse of her and Alysah Hickey when they were competing in an eighth grade track meet. In that meet, Alysah made a jump at 4-6, with a clearance of six inches. I saw their potential in junior high. Alysah had only a five-step approach in middle school and we worked on that. With high jumpers that show talent, I work on their approach first. To me, that is much more important to get down, because it takes the longest and is the hardest. We get used to the curve (the running approach to the high jump bar), then we back up from there and do form work.”

Hickey qualified for the California State Meet as a freshman, again during her sophomore year, and as of last weekend, Alysah punched her ticket to Fresno for a third straight year in the event. Joining her in the high jump at the State Meet will be her best friend Ruthie Grant-Williams, who qualified for the first time.

Hickey is very aware of the school record owned by Klages. Elders compared the styles of the two athletes. “They almost look like twins going over the bar. Speed-wise, Alysah is a lot faster and Jamie was a lot smoother. Height-wise there is a huge difference. Jamie is 5-11 and Alysah is 5-6, which means she can jump four inches over her height.”

It should be noted the ultra-talented Hickey is also ranked No.1 in the state currently in the Long Jump, and is a 100-meter dash phenom, winning the CIF San Diego Section title a year ago, and finishing second this year.

Hickey said of Elders, “I feel like Kerry is not just a coach, but a friend. Since he was a high jumper himself, he understands what we go through. He knows about bad jumping days. My biggest challenge, which I’m sure Kerry would agree with, is making my curve consistent, smooth and fluid. Not harsh or going at a right angle to the bar. That allows for more lift on my jumps.”

And as for the State Meet this weekend, Hickey said, “I really enjoy the state meet, which has a really good atmosphere and you get good exposure. I am really excited to go, and that Ruthie is going too. Overall, I love watching the meet. I love watching track.”

If you think being a self-taught high-jumper automatically makes you a good coach in the same event, Elders would invoke his personal experience and disagree. “One of the first things I noticed while coaching in Maui was that I wasn’t very good. I could do the event great, but I didn’t realize how intricate it is, the rotation, speed, curve and angle. I still study to this day and I look at videos all the time. I am constantly doing that. It took me a while to become a decent coach. What I have realized through the years is I really try to get in touch with the kids, personality-wise and to get to know them as well as I can. I like to joke and keep it loose and fresh. I don’t want to push anybody over the high jump bar and I don’t like to deal with students who don’t want to be there. High school is all about fun, and if it’s not fun, it becomes tedious. Last week we had the [Niedermeyer] Field to ourselves. We played capture the flag and had a great workout. That got the kids to laugh, intermingle, and brought everybody together. I’m always impressed with how well our Girls Track Team does. The basis of the team has always been the distance runners because of George. But lately we have been getting 18 points in the high jump in every meet.”

When he’s not turning athletes into state-level high jumpers, Elders has been working as a professional photographer for the past two and one half years. He has a treasure trove of 100,000 photos on his laptop, including scenes from Park City, Utah; Montana; Glacier National Park; Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks. Kerry and his wife Mary enjoy traveling in the off season, seeing the country. As for his career in photography, “It’s phenomenal and I love it. And I’ve been able to make a living for the past couple of years from photography.”

Although the possible end of Elders’ coaching career isn’t far away, he has made a commitment to Hickey and Grant-Williams to stay at CHS through the course of their high school careers. Having known him for 15 years, it’s hard to imagine the personable Elders will go cold turkey on his sport. A serious illness a year ago forced him to coach via live video stream from Coronado to Park City. When asked if that was the wave of the coaching future, Elders said, “I don’t see why not. More than anything it’s the connection for the athlete that gives them a little security. I think the job that George and I have done at Coronado High is pretty incredible, with the student body we have to work with. And that has made coaching fun. Getting Ruthie and Alysah to qualify for the State Meet this year has been great.”

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