Hardt Named Coach Of The Year

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Coach Chuck Hardt walks with legs chiseled from years of sports, onto the red oval of Payson High School's track where his wife, Shirley, waits for him.

She's the unknown assistant coach who opens her home to Hardt's Longhorn athletes.

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Longhorns track and field coach Chuck Hardt stands with his wife and little-known assistant coach, Shirley Hardt.

"He really, really cares about the kids," Shirley said. "He's a godly man. He lives a clean life. He's a good example for the kids."

Eleven years after taking over Payson High School's track program, Hardt and the boys' track team, sprinted away with a 3A state title championship May 16.

But Hardt's fondness for the track harks back to his childhood.

His father coached the North High School Mustangs basketball team. As a boy Hardt attended track events with his dad.

Every other year, the United States hosted Russia for an international track event at the Los Angeles Coliseum. The Hardts journeyed west to cheer on local champs.

In particular, young Hardt admired gold-medal Olympian Dallas Long, an Arizona native who set the still-standing 1959 national shot put record.

"He set the record on his first attempt," Hardt said. "He bested it each time. He had huge hands."

Back in Payson, Hardt started high school in the mid-1960s and joined the track team.

Ted Pettet, the town's first mayor and track coach, trained Hardt.

"He was a good athlete," Pettet said. "He also played basketball. He made the All-Star North team."

That was during Hardt's senior year. The basketball coach left town and stranded Hardt, scheduled to play in the all-star game in Flagstaff.

"I gave him a ride to Flagstaff," Pettet said. "When I was talking to (Hardt), I found out nobody had made arrangements to take him to the game."

Pettet founded the PHS track team in 1960 and served as its guide over the next 12 years, coaching many Payson notables, including Hardt's brother Gary, the namesake of the spring rodeo.

In 1967, Pettet coached Chuck Hardt to a long-jump regional championship -- 19 feet, 11 inches -- at Ray High School in the copper-mining town of Kearny, Ariz.

Hardt remembered the jump takeoff. The grass was filled with sand, slowing the approach.

Before the track meet, the school had planned to lay down an old conveyor belt on top of a sandy foundation, but that didn't happen.

So, Hardt and his track mates raked as much sand out of the way as possible, and during competition, circumvented the tainted grass.

He never forgot those glory days of his youth, and as a physical education teacher, coach and mentor, he's helped other students for the past 30 years create their own triumphs.

"It's a pleasure to watch kids work through adversity," he said. "(Competition) takes ‘want to.' It takes discipline, it takes a good work ethic and it's the little things that make champions.

"Be willing to show up on time, be willing to pay a price and don't be the weak link on the team."

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