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CREATING STRENGTH COACHING POSITIONS
The latest commitment to athletics and sports by the Mesa Schools has been the creation of both a head and assistant strength coach position at each high school
By Walter Sword
Published: Spring 2002

If you are talking about high school athletics and sports in Arizona, you are probably talking about the Mesa Public Schools. For example, in the past 15 years the 5-A football state champion has come out of Mesa 11 times. It is no coincidence that the Mesa Schools place a high priority on its athletic and sports programs. In each school, all athletes have the opportunity to take an athletic physical education class during the last period of the day. The latest commitment to athletics and sports by the Mesa Schools has been the creation of both a head and assistant strength coach position at each high school.
Last January, a group of strength coaches in Mesa proposed the creation of these two new positions. Steve Hogen, the District Athletic Director, took the proposal and gained approval for a 1 year pilot program. “The great thing about the strength coaching positions was that it was initiated by our coaches to improve the entire strength training program, not just for the football team, but for all students of any sport or gender,” says Hogen. The coaching positions were approved in May and became operational in August.
The strength coaches are required to be certified. CPR training and certification are also required. Strength coaches are not allowed to coach another sport while they are being paid for strength training. The stipend is for beyond normal school hours time spent in the weight room or in the conditioning of athletes. The strength coaches are paid for each season similar to the head and assistant athletic trainer. The positions entails instruction, coordination of programs and facility, and documentation - not just opening the weight room and sitting. “The strength coaches meet regularly to share ideas, research, and techniques,” says Hogen. “Their efforts to assist each other to improve has been of great benefit to the entire district.”
While the job requirements are the same, each school is allowed to implement their own program. For example, at Mountain View, Jerry Wheeler, head strength coach, places special emphasis on the Olympic lifts. He recently expanded his weight room to 6,000 square feet and hopes to become a regional training site. Last year he hosted the Grand Canyon State Games, had 15 students qualify for the Junior Nationals, and had a student win a silver medal at the U.S. Open.
At Mesa High, Doug Larish, head strength coach, has developed a series of educational programs on nutrition for athletes and coaches in the district. To date, he has developed workshops on nutrition, designing strength programs, and power training on a public school budget. At Skyline, Mark Swartz, head strength coach, has implemented a math program in his weightlifting classes. He teaches his students to calculate percentages, max, and volume of workouts. At Red Mountain, Steve Cerqua, was recently hired as the head strength coach. Dobson High has not yet hired a strength coach.
At Westwood, Walt Sword, head strength coach, and Bob Jennings, assistant strength coach, have started many new programs. In September, we started an intramural weightlifting club that has over 125 members. In November, we hosted the NASA Regional Drug Free Powerlifting Championships. In December, we put on an intramural bench press competition that included freshman from our feeder schools. In March, we will be hosting the NASA Western States Drug Free Powerlifting Championships, and in June, the NASA Arizona State Drug Free Championships. “The plan is to have a drug tested competition every 3 or 4 months,” states Coach Sword, a drug free competitive powerlifter himself. “The powerlifting meets give the students and athletes a purpose for training and an opportunity to compete in a drug free atmosphere.”
The credit for the development of these positions should go to Bob Jennings, Westwood, and Jerry Wheeler, Mountain View. For 20 years Bob has been a teacher, football coach, and strength coach. He has tried unsuccessfully for many years to get a strength coaches position on the salary schedule. “Besides being a great program for our kids, it gives official recognition to the coaches and their commitment to our students,” says Coach Jennings. Jerry Wheeler and Bob Jennings along with Doug Larish, Mark Swartz, and Walt Sword developed the proposal. “The Mesa Schools have given us a great opportunity, to work with all students and sports to enhance athletic performance, reduce the drop out rate, and promote community relations,” says Coach Wheeler
Since the positions began in August, each school has been responsible for tracking the number of individuals using the weight room. Daily records have been kept of athlete and non-athletes, male and female, faculty, and staff usage and workouts per week and month. Most weight rooms are open before school, at lunch, 6th period, after school, and on Saturday. In September, the number of workouts that took place was over 12,000. In October, over 15,000 workouts occurred. In November, almost 17,000 workouts took place in the Mesa High Schools.
Obviously the numbers have shown that the strength coaches pilot program has been successful. “At Westwood, all students, athletes and non-athletes have the opportunity to maximize the results of their strength training efforts, due to the availability of highly skilled, knowledgeable, and certified strength coaches,” says Harold Crenshaw, principal. The program now goes to the teacher’s union, Mesa Educational Association, and the school board for consideration of permanent placement on the salary schedule. We are hopeful that the program will continue to serve our students, athletes, faculty, and staff and serve as a model for other high school strength coaches.
If you would like more information on the Mesa Strength Coaches proposal and program, you may contact either Walt Sword or Bob Jennings at Westwood High School. You may also contact Jerry Wheeler, at Mountain View, Doug Larish, at Mesa High, Mark Swartz, at Skyline, Steve Cerqua, at Red Mountain, or Steve Hogen, district athletic director for more information.
“We are very excited about the strength coaching positions at our high schools,” says Hogen. “This is an awesome example of what can be accomplished through a combined effort by quality instructors."

Mesa strength coaches (left to right): Walt Sword, Steve Cerqua, Bob Jennings, Doug Larish and Jerry Wheeler (not pictured Mark Swartz)
Westwood High School
Mountain View High School
Mesa High School

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