Vilonia track program on the rise

by Lee Hogan

Any coach or athletic program looking for a blueprint on how to build a successful track team should look no further than Vilonia.

Over the past six years, the Vilonia boys and girls track teams have combined for one state title and eight conference championships.

The recent success is something that both teams were unaccustomed to for a long time, but since Michael Stout, the boys’ coach, and John Steward, the girls’ coach, have taken the helm, things have changed.

Since Stout took over three years ago, the boys’ team has won two consecutive conference titles and was the 2011 5A state champions.

It was the school’s first state title in track and the back-to-back conference titles were also the first in school history.

The boys came close to a state title in 2010, finishing as the state runner-up. Coming so close to a title helped inspire the team, as it returned in 2011 to win the title by 43 points.

 “They worked very hard from November, all the way through the state championship,” Stout said. “They stayed focused and wanted to make sure there was no disappointment.”

While the girls team is still searching for a state title, it has had a strangle hold on its conference, winning the last six conference titles.

The first title came in 2006 and marked the girls’ first title in 16 years. It was also Steward’s first year as the girls’ track coach.

“Before, they didn’t know how to work, or what to do,” Steward said. “Now, they look at me funny if they have an easy day. They know it’s going to be hard work and they come ready to go.”

Vilonia’s track teams have come a long way under Steward and Stout. In 2005, the last year without either as coach, there were a combined 20 athletes on the track teams that combined for only one point in the state track meet.

Last season, each team had more than 40 members and the success under Steward and Stout has stockpiled. 

While both coaches have been instrumental in the success, both pointed to the work of Casey Craun, the junior high track coach, as a key reason for the change in Vilonia’s track teams.

“We have a very good junior high coach,” Steward said. “[Craun] got it started in the junior high level.”

Another key to both teams’ success has been the members’ willingness to perform as a team.

“It takes everybody to win,” Stout said. “A lot of people view track as an individual sport, and at the state level, that’s far from the truth.”

Stout said his team has gone as far as to open every practice with 17 jumping jacks to symbolize the 17 events in the state competition and that it takes the whole team to win.

The boys and girls teams will look to continue their success this season and both coaches expect to be near the top again.

While this year will be a chance for the boys’ team to repeat as state champions, it will be another chance for Steward and the girls’ team to capture the one thing missing from the trophy case.

“That’s one thing that’s eluded us,” Steward said. “We’re trying really hard. We hope to get to that level. We’re not there yet, but we hope to get there.”

No matter the results, it will be another exciting year for the Vilonia track teams.