Most everyone who spends a few minutes talking with newly appointed Payson High School track and cross-country coach Jonathon Ball leaves convinced he’s the one to return the programs to the statewide prominence they once enjoyed.
“Those are my goals and I know how to accomplish them,” he confidently states. “Go in the (Wilson) Dome and most of those banners hanging are either in track or wrestling ... we want to put some more (track and cross country) banners up in there.”
For the new coach, the keys to success are to recruit more student athletes to participate in the sports, build a cohesive coaching staff and rebuild the program from the ground up, starting with middle school and youth programs.
“For example, we don’t have the Hershey (youth track meet) anymore, we need to start them up again,” he said. “They promote physical fitness, they’re fun and build interest in the program.”
Hershey’s track and field program is open to children 9 to 14 years old and is the largest of its kind in the U.S. and Canada.
In addition to building youth programs, Ball has started an off-season training regime designed to help cross-country runners prepare for the upcoming fall season.
At 6 p.m. each Wednesday, athletes gather near the PHS weight room where cross-country runs begin.
“They are open to everyone — elementary school runners, older runners — and they are fun,” Ball said.
During those sessions and in other preseason workouts, Ball says he wants to “change the mind-set of the athletes to get more of them out and then make it a positive experience.”
He predicts that if he is successful in accomplishing those two tasks, it will reflect in the program by attracting more students, especially among the boys where participation has sagged the last two years.
Also in building the program, the new coach wants to work hand in hand with longtime Rim Country Middle School coach Randy Wilcox to create interest and to prepare athletes for high school competition.
At RCMS, Ball has a definite in — his wife, Kyley, is an assistant coach there.
In addition to working with Wilcox, Ball has brought retired New York state coach Chuck Yale on board.
“He has a great deal of expertise that will be valuable,” Ball said. “We need him in our program.”
Ball also hopes to meet with former Longhorn track and field coaches Dan Reid and Chuck Hardt to pick up any support he can from them.
“We want them to feel welcome and I know they have a lot they can contribute if they want to,” Ball said.
Reid and Hardt once coached the track and cross country teams to some of their finest showings, including several state championships.
The road to Payson
Ball arrived in Payson last fall to replace a PHS English teacher who was released from her contract.
“I got here at about the end of the cross country season, so I didn’t see much of that,” he said.
In the spring, he served as an assistant coach to Ian Harvey who resigned his head coaching position at the end of school year.
Prior to moving to Payson, Ball was head track and field coach at a Class 5A high school in Albuquerque, where he also was the meet director for the New Mexico state cross country and track and field meets.
Although he was perfectly comfortable teaching and coaching in Albuquerque, it was a trip through the Rim Country that convinced Ball and his wife they wanted to someday live in Payson.
As an avid runner, he was in Phoenix a couple of years ago to compete in the P.F. Chang Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon.
After the event, he and his wife traveled through the Rim Country on their way home to Albuquerque.
“We came through Payson and my wife says ‘this is a nice town, I want to live here someday,’” he said.
“So, I always had Payson in the back of my mind.”
When the PHS teaching position opened last fall, Ball applied and eventually was chosen.
Which meant pulling up his New Mexico roots, which includes four daughters ages 1-1/2 to 9 years old, and moving to Payson.
“But it is something we really wanted to do,” he said. “I’m excited to be here and excited to be a part of the great history of the track and cross country teams.”