As we approach the beginning of the outdoor season, we will continue to profile track and field coaches (and many that coach cross country as well) to our California coaching legend series. We have a lot of choices that cover the entire spectrum of events but as always, if you have coaches that you would like to nominate, please let us know on twitter @milesplitCA or you can email us at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, and email@example.com.
Foothill Technology coach Ken Reeves is a fellow coaching legend and this is what he had to say about longtime Long Beach Poly coach Don Norford (photo above courtesy of Orange County Register).
"One of the all-time great (if not the all-time great coach) coaches in the history of California high school athletics. In addition to his track and field successes, he was a Jackrabbit football coach for 38 years and was named the high school football coach of the year by the NFL in 1996. Had the honor of sitting at his table when he was inducted into the CIF SS Hall of Fame. He has raised the bar so high in the area of track and field, it would take a take a world record coaching effort to come to be considered in the same sentence with Don Norford. He is the standard."
In 2005, Sports Illustrated ranked the top 25 high school athletic programs in the entire United States (approximately over 38,000 schools at the time). They based their rankings on championships won as well as college athletes produced. When it was all said and done, the NUMBER ONE ranked high school athletic program was Long Beach Poly. You can check out that article at this LINK.
One of the reasons for the LBP selection was "Papa Don", as Coach Norford is affectionally known. He had a major impact on Long Beach Poly HS. He grew up in Long Beach and graduated from Long Beach Poly HS in 1964. He returned to LBP and coached at the school for 38 years. Along with his Track and Field duties, Coach Norford was also an assistant Football coach that helped mentor 45 future pro Football players. He took over the reigns of the Track and Field team in 1989 and until his retirement in 2014, the Jackrabbits won 25 CIF team titles and 19 State team titles (Boys 1997, 1998, 2006, 2007 and 2011/Girls 1992, 1993, 1995, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014). When pressed, Coach Norford singled out the 1997-1998 as the best he ever had.
During Coach Norford's tenure, LBP also had many individual Track and Field champions and his 2004 girls' 1600 relay team still holds the state meet record of 3:35.49. Among some of the LBP all-time greats are former sprinters Kareem Kelly (3-time state individual champion), Bryshon Nelllum (4-time state individual champion) and current University of Oregon great, Ariana Washington (6-time state individual champion).
Coach Norford (photo to right courtesy Stephen Carr/Daily Breeze) was the Max Preps girls coach of the year for all sports. As noted above, he was inducted in the CIF SS Hall of Fame. On March 8, 2018, Coach Norford will be an inductee as part of the first class in the National Track and Field Hall of Fame. Along with legendary coach Joe Newton, Norford is the only other coach inducted into the first class. An amazing achievement for a true all-time great.
If you want to learn a bit more about coach Norford, check out the two videos in the next two pages. While he did win many championships, his lasting legacy will be with the relationships that he made with many of his athletes. Crystal Irving, who graduated from LBP in 1998, joined his staff in 1997 and took over the program after his retirement. She helped mentor 100 and 200 meters California state champion Ariyonna Augustine last year. I think both videos capture the appreciation of Coach Norford by so many LBP athletes.