Track and field looks to stay atop the competition

Marty Simpkins | Staff Writer

The UNC Wilmington track and field season has just started, but no one is really paying attention to them and their success. The team is coached by eight-time CAA Coach of the Year award winner Jim Sprecher, and they have won seven conference titles in the last 16 years.

However, the only time track and field is watched is every four years in the Olympics. Despite the school’s success, Coach Sprecher explains why the program isn’t getting enough attention as it should.

“No one really watches track and field other than that one time during the Olympics,” he said. “In this sport, you’re lucky if you get a home meet every year. Luckily for us, we get more than one home meet every season. Our exposure in front of our university is very limited.”

In Coach Jim Sprecher’s first tenure with the team, he led them to three consecutive conference championships from 1997 to 1999. Then he left the program to go coach at the university he graduated from, Ball State. Unfortunately, the team dropped the track and field program to put more money into their football team.

“I was fortunate that UNCW liked what my coaching staff and I did previously,” he said. “When I first got here twenty years ago, we had to build the program up from nothing. Then when I came back in 2004, we had to rebuild it again. UNCW is definitely a special place and Ball State will always be a part of me since I graduated from there, but UNCW has been my favorite coaching gig so far in my 27 years of coaching.”


The track team hasn’t won a conference championship since 2009, but Coach Sprecher is confident that they’re on pace to get back to their top form soon.

“We’re a pretty well balanced team when it comes to all the sports we have in track and field,” he said. “We’ve got special athletes in every position that are among the best in the country. Ryan O’Connor at our first meet the other day ran the 18th fastest time in the country in the 800 meters. Ariel Chapman is a natural class long jumper and triple jumper. David Lindsay is one of the best hurdlers in the country. We’re pretty blessed to have good kids in all 21 events.”

For 27 years, Sprecher has produced numerous successful athletes who have gone on to do great things at the collegiate level. He has learned through all of his years that in order to keep having this kind of success, you have to have a balance of old and new coaching schemes.

“I’ve done things in my coaching now, that I used to do back when I first started coaching,” he said. “But at the same time I have changed and adapted to the new athletes we’ve brought in. I’m now starting to figure out what works and what doesn’t. You have to be steady and balanced. Typically, we’re putting in 60 to 80 hours a week of practicing and preparing and it can be a grind, but you do feel some satisfaction and enjoyment doing it. The balance part is trying to balance between my personal life and my career as a coach. We’ve had to take steps there so we don’t leave them out.”

As a part of this hard work and preparation, track and field practices are not like ordinary college sport practices. Since Sprecher has over a 100 athletes on his team, he has to split them up into groups when trying to coach them throughout the day.

“We have platoon practices, where only a third of our team shows up for about half an hour and then another third of our team show up after the first group leaves,” he said. “It’s like a three-ring circus the way we do our practices. The 2 p.m. practice is when a lot of our field athletes come out and we have jumpers and throwers coming out at the same time. The 3:30 p.m. one is usually more for the runners and we’ve got sprinters and hurdlers coming out and practicing at the same time. Our practices usually take up three hours a day from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. once we have all the athletes from different parts of the sport come out. As far as training goes, it’s very personal for each individual athlete. They have certain patterns that they follow in order to make themselves better.”

UNCW has a little over 300 athletes and a third of them represent the school’s track and field program. Fortunately for Coach Sprecher, he has assistant coaches who deal with specific parts of the team. As the head coach, he overlooks the entire program as a whole, but he also helps with recruiting as well.

“We are really aggressive when it comes to recruiting,” he said. “We go out to a lot of meets and we traditionally stick around here in the state of North Carolina when we try to recruit athletes. In the 17 years I’ve coached here, I have never left the state of North Carolina for a recruit. Donald Thomas, who works with me with the sprinters and jumpers, is our recruiting coordinator and I tell people all the time that he is one of the best recruiting coordinators in the country. He works really hard to find kids and he is good at developing relationships with them.”

Finding the recruits is not the hard part, however. It’s narrowing them down and discovering which ones will help the team in its biggest areas of needs that is challenging.

“We’ve got about 300 kids that are interested in our program, about a hundred kids visit the school, and then we narrow down our recruiting class to 30 students every year. We know why kids go here. The number one thing they put on their recruiting questionnaire one why they choose UNCW is the beach. The second reason is that they know we have a pretty successful program and they really like the area and the teammates.”

Like Coach Sprecher said, many students are familiar with the program’s success over the years under Sprecher’s guidance. In the span of just 17 years, he has coached 104 CAA Championship athletes and 89 of them qualified for the NCAA regional tournament, which means that they are recognized as the top athletes in the country. Out of those 89, Sprecher has produced a USA National Team athlete, Anna Raynor, whom in Coach Sprecher’s mind is “arguably one of the best student athletes to ever play at UNCW.”

Raynor was a three-time All-American for the javelin throwing team. Coach Sprecher recalls that she is one of the many athletes he as coached that were not considered the best athlete coming out of high school, but then transformed into one of the greatest in the country right before his eyes.

“A lot of those 89 NCAA qualifiers were not exactly the best kids coming out of high school,” he said. “But with a lot of hard work, dedication, and development they turned from good athletes to some of the best athletes in the nation. To see that progress has been really satisfying and along with that physical development, you see a growth in their personal lives as well.”

The first home track meet for the Seahawks is the eighth annual Battle of the Beaches on March 3rd, then the Seahawk Invitational will be the weekend after that on March 8th and 9th. Coach Sprecher is hoping to display his exciting new recruiting class this season and he’s ready to watch more development in the students he has impacted at UNCW.