Monday Q&A: Riverbank coach vows all-weather track will be one of best

Monte Wood is pictured last month near the track at Riverbank High School in Riverbank. The Riverbank Unified School District board approved a $1.8 million contract to build an all-weather synthetic track for its championship track and field teams.
Monte Wood is pictured last month near the track at Riverbank High School in Riverbank. The Riverbank Unified School District board approved a $1.8 million contract to build an all-weather synthetic track for its championship track and field teams. jlee@modbee.com

Monte Wood coaches track and field and cross country at Riverbank High School and helped develop the $1.8 million project to build an all-weather track at the school.

Growing up on a farm in southwest Missouri, Wood nailed together 1-by-4-inch boards to create a pole vault and jumped over twine into hay. He was a sprinter and jumper in junior high and high school but attended Missouri State University on an academic scholarship. Wood was a high school teacher and coach in Springfield, Mo., for four years before moving to the Modesto area. His wife, Rebecca Cole, was a three-sport athlete at Modesto High.

Wood has taught English and coached for 18 years at Riverbank High, a school known for championship track and field and cross country teams. He responded to questions about the new track facilities, which should be completed by the fall.

Q: What was the origin of the proposal to build an all-weather track at Riverbank High School?

A: An all-weather track has been discussed for over a decade amongst the coaches and even some board members. A lot of the credit for finally getting the ball rolling belongs to Jeep Oliviera, who is an RHS alum, a former cross country/track and field coach, and former board member. His influence and vision really helped the current Riverbank Unified School District school board to buy into investing the money into the track, which is also an investment in our community.

The current board deserves a lot of credit as well, because they have been committed not to just building an all-weather track but making sure it’s a high-quality facility like our gymnasium.

Q: What teams and students will use the track?

A: Every student at RHS will use the facility. Our physical education teachers do a great job of promoting fitness, and they use the track on a weekly basis for their classes. Several of the other sports teams use it for conditioning, and, of course, our cross country and track and field teams will use it for training and competition.

Cardozo Middle School reinstated its track program this year under the direction of Jeff Warn, so it will also benefit from the track. We also hope to introduce our elementary schools to track by having a track and field day for fourth- and fifth-graders. It would be awesome if we could bring all fourth- and fifth-graders from Mesa Verde and California Avenue schools and Riverbank Language Academy.

Q: Tell us about the different features of the all-weather track facility.

A: The surface is a high-performance surface that is identical to the ones at California State University, Stanislaus, and Oakdale High School. Many of the local all-weather surfaces are seven or eight-lane tracks, but ours will be nine lanes. We have kept the current layout of our field events because they are set up to take advantage of the prevailing winds here. This allows for a tailwind for long jumpers, triple jumpers and pole vaulters.

The tailwind aids performers in running faster, leading to some nice personal records at our track. We also have all of our field events in separate areas so none of them conflict with each other. In some stadiums, the vaulters and high jumpers have to share runway space, and it just gets too congested.

Q: When it’s completed, how will Riverbank’s facility compare with other high school tracks in our area?

A: We believe this facility will be one of the best due to the layout for our field events, the nine lanes and quality of the surface. In the next few years, we will have to invest some money in a timing system, hurdles and new jump pits.

Q: What will this project mean for track and field in the region?

A: One of our goals is to promote track and field in the greater Stanislaus area. Track and field is a great sport because everyone gets to compete. In other sports, some kids practice all week and then sit and watch their teammates play. Each kid can walk away from a track meet feeling good. They can see their hard work has paid off when they set a personal record in their events.

We host two junior high meets every year, and those will continue. We plan on hosting a distance carnival and throwers challenge next year. The Trans Valley League championship meet will be held at RHS. The MLL/TVL Challenge will be hosted here in 2017, and we are open to hosting a divisional meet in the future if our facility is needed.

Q: Why does Riverbank High have such a strong tradition in championship track and field and cross country?

A: Without a doubt, Riverbank High School has a strong tradition in track and cross country because of the individuals who laid the groundwork for it. The first year Riverbank High opened in 1967-68, they won the TVL championship in track and field. I believe they won it the next four years after that. Bruce Edwards, Ron Hebert and Jeep Oliveira have had a tremendous influence in building and keeping the tradition going. They have had a tremendous influence on me and all the coaching staff. Every current coach on our staff is an RHS alum.

Q: What is your style for coaching?

A: Every kid matters in our track program. We have some elite athletes, and we have plenty who are not as talented, but they all matter. We are a family, and we want each athlete to set goals, work hard to achieve those goals and reap the profits of their hard work.

We examine each kid’s natural abilities and try to guide them into an event where they will be the most successful. Our staff works hard to make sure that each kid in our program walks away from high school saying that Riverbank track and field, or cross country, was one of their best experiences. I think that is why we have so many come back to coach and stay connected with the program.

I really emphasize the team aspect of training together and competing together. Some view track and field as an individual sport, but there is a team score, and we stress how important every point is for the team.

Q: Will the all-weather track facility be open to the community?

A: The community will use the track. Relay for Life will be using the track. And members of the community will be able to come up and walk/run the track. We want to promote fitness in our community.

Ken Carlson: (209) 578-2321