If a genuine love of their respective sport is one of the most important prerequisites for a head coach, then Everett High School (EHS) track coach Shelanda Irish starts from a definite position of strength.
Her love of running blossomed as a high school student in Randolph, peaked as a collegiate athlete at UMass-Amherst and as a member of the club team Boston International, and continues today as the chief mentor to EHS’s runners, jumpers and throwers. She is in charge of the Crimson Tide’s cross country and indoor and outdoor track teams, for both boys and girls, which means she coaches every single week of the school year.
“I definitely love running,” Irish said with a laugh before a recent dual meet vs. Lynn Classical. “I think we’re building a strong program here. I try to be as efficient as I can, implementing a lot of things I learned during my running days and exposing the kids to a variety of aspects of track and field.”
Fans who focus all of their attention on the so-called “major” sports might not appreciate what is asked of track athletes. The Crimson Tide practice 10-plus hours per week, have one dual meet during the week and often compete in invitational meets on weekends. “It’s definitely a big commitment,” Irish said. “You have to manage your time and your academics to give yourself the best chance to compete. Track’s not a sport in which you can take a lot of days off, especially consecutively.”
This winter, 56 boys and girls are on EHS’s indoor track roster. To help coach that many athletes, Irish has assembled a multi-talented team of assistant coaches consisting of Helen Martin (a distance specialist), Robert McCarthy, Anthony Camaro (who works with the throwers) and Matthew Dowalibi. Between all five coaches, every athlete receives the specific coaching he or she needs.
“If I didn’t have enough assistant coaches, it would definitely be chaotic,” Irish said. “We can definitely focus on the appropriate technical aspects and mechanics of each and every event.”
Because dual meets are demanding, Irish and her staff break up practice sessions to reduce wear and tear. One day they might focus on starts and breathing techniques, while another might focus on handing off the baton during relays and resistance training. In addition, the athletes do weight training twice a week.
Irish said she enjoys the two-sided aspect of track. On the one hand, there is the never-ending pursuit of individual goals — your fastest time, your longest jump, your farthest throw. On the other hand, when it comes to dual meets, track is very much a “team sport.” Before every meet, Irish and her coaches sit down and determine the best ways to deploy their athletes to maximize their chances of getting the most points. Putting your best athletes in the same events week after week won’t work, as your strengths and weaknesses change depending on the opposing team’s roster.
Another vital aspect to track is its inclusiveness. While Everett’s roster is 50-plus strong, Irish said she has room for 80-plus boys and girls. The same will be true in the spring, when Irish completes her year-long pursuit of sharing her love of track and field with EHS athletes.