By Jordan J. Michael
GUILDERLAND –– Finding a new boys’ track-and-field head coach wasn’t a difficult task for Guilderland. The obvious choice was Jason Usher, who assisted long-time coach Pete Wachtel for nine years, and also competed for the Dutch in the ’90s.
With Usher’s father, Dick, still coaching the girls’ team after 35 years, track and field at Guilderland is now completely headed by the Usher family.
Jason Usher, who celebrated his 35th birthday last Friday, said that it was an “easy transition” to head coach. “I learned a lot from Pete,” he said. “Pete was a great mentor.”
Undoubtedly, his father, who is a legendary coach, has also taught Usher a thing or two.
“He’s very enthusiastic, so I try to give him advice,” Dick Usher said of his son. “He wants to get so much done at once, but he’s got to take it easy when it comes to planning. You don’t want too many things on your plate. He’s a little nervous, but he’s doing good.”
Jason Usher is responsible for 126 boys, the most Guilderland has ever had, but he has three coaches to help him –– Dan Penna, Matt Wright, and Dana Doak. The girls’ team has 140 athletes.
Guilderland doesn’t cut anyone from track and field. Any student from seventh to 12th grades can join.
“It’s a great thing,” Usher said. “It’s hard to say why all these kids are flocking to the track, but I think people are spreading the word about it. We’re getting noticed.”
Wachtel started assisting Bill Drake, who founded the program, in 1990, and eventually coached Usher from 1991 to 1996. Usher’s Dutch records in high jump (6 feet, 9.25 inches) and 100-meter (10.8 seconds) still stand today. In his senior year, Usher competed at States in the pentathlon.
“We took everyday average athletes and were able to get the max out of them,” Wachtel said. “Some of them, like Jason, became very good.”
Usher has a great relationship with Wachtel, knowing him as a coach, teacher, and a friend.
“He always expressed the importance of being prepared, and how to show kids respect,” Usher said of Wachtel. “You have to try and be personal as a coach, so you can build better rapport.”
Usher is a physical-education teacher at Guilderland and also the junior-varsity football head coach.
“It’s nice to be replaced by someone who already has the same information and experience,” Wachtel said. “There’s a work ethic that’s expected; no adjustment. Jason’s very responsible, so he blended right in.”
Dick Usher has five sons, and four of them competed in track and field for Guilderland. Jason Usher’s brother, Steve, coaches track and field at Schoharie.
“I think it’s awesome that they’re following me,” said Dick Usher. “We all fell in love with this sport. There’s a sense of glory in watching athletes improve.”
At an overcast practice on Monday, Jason Usher explained to a large group of boys the keys to running a 200-meter dash. Half of the athletes have never run track before, so Usher made sure to get the point across with his commanding voice.
The more the kids run, the less rest they’ll need. The intensity will increase as the season progresses.
“I’m excited to help these guys reach their full potential,” Usher said. “They’re funny, smart, and work really hard. This is going to be a lot of fun, but it’s not always a game.”