Payson High School teacher and coach Chuck Hardt has been belatedly honored as the Class 3A Central Division's 1998 Girls' Track Coach of the Year.
Last week, almost seven months after the conclusion of the spring track and field campaign, Hardt was honored for his coaching efforts of the Lady Longhorn team.
The coach's plaque was awarded to him by Payson High School Athletic Director Barry Smith.
Both Smith and Hardt said they did not know the reason for the delay in the award other than the fact the division is only in its second year of existence and protocol sometimes unravels.
In mid-May of 1998, Hardt coached the Lady Horn team to the Central Division championship at Arizona Boys Ranch. Payson dominated the meet, racking up a whopping 318 points. The closest any Central foe could come was the 193 points turned in by runner-up Fountain Hills.
The PHS team entered the state meet one week later at Chandler High School with an outside chance of ending Safford's longtime hold on the 3A championship.
Safford won as expected, but Payson showed well and finished third, one point behind runner-up Round Valley.
However, the meet was wrapped in controversy when a triple jump of 35 feet, 5 inches by Rheanna Martinez went unrecorded and the Lady Horns lost valuable team points. Had the leap been recorded properly, the Horns would have finished second.
Hardt and a bevy of supporters tried to appeal the official's negligence, but their efforts were rejected.
Nonetheless, the season was a banner one that resulted in Hardt's award.
The coach probably unveiled some of his best strategy in the state meet when he yanked star Stephanie Robertson from the high jump and instead entered her in the shot-put as one of her four events.
Had she stayed in the high jump, she would have had to contend with a state record leap of 5 feet, 8 1/2 inches turned by St. John's Jodi Smith. Also, the staging of the high jump often conflicts with the hurdles, forcing Robertson to focus on two competitions at the same time.
Out of the high jump, the Horn star went on to win the state championship in the 300-meter hurdles and take second in the 100-meter hurdles, long jump and shot-put.
At the conclusion of the prep season, Hardt continued to coach Robertson and other local athletes in amateur track and field competitions that culminated late in the summer in Seattle, Wash.
In addition to his track and field duties, Hardt is the lone coach for both the boys' and girls' cross country teams at PHS.