Coach Putnam puts new track and field team on path for success

Track runners hand off the baton during the relay

Saint Joseph’s inaugural varsity track and field team has enjoyed a great deal of success in their premiere season under the leadership of Coach Ray Putnam, the College’s cross country coach since 2011. When he first started, Coach Putnam was given a timeframe of four years to start the track and field program. He had the team up and running – literally – within a year.

Impressive? Yes. Surprising? Not from Coach Putnam. Saint Joseph’s is the third track and field team he’s built from the ground up. Before coming to Saint Joseph’s, Coach Putnam led the Lewiston High School Blue Devils from their first meet all the way through eight state championships.

“I become very tunnel-visioned,” Coach Putnam says, reflecting on the great deal of recruiting and organizing that went into starting the College’s new varsity program. “And when I start pushing, I don’t stop pushing until I get where I want to go.”

It’s a needed attitude in a sport like track and field, where meets pit individuals and teams against each other, testing both their skill and endurance. Athletes compete in events like sprints and distance runs (ranging from 100-meter dashes to longer races, spanning distances up to 10,000 meters); shot put (where athletes hurl an eight- or 16-pound ball as far as they can); and events like the long jump and pole vaulting. Multiple events are often grouped together into larger events such as the decathlon, a prominent contest in the summer Olympic Games.

As Coach Putnam says, the sport is “so much more intense” than people know it to be. He likens the Monks’ competition to “sharks seeking blood.” In the average running event, track and field athletes are scratched, blocked and shoved in their quest for the finish line.

So why, in a sport where pain is their “most loyal friend,” are Saint Joseph’s athletes sacrificing sleeping in on the weekends in favor of competing in meets, invitationals and championships? And what makes track and field, according to some reports, the second most popular sport in the world?

For Coach Putnam and the team, track and field is more than just a sport; it’s a culture. And to foster that culture, Coach Putnam held long meetings every two weeks focused specifically on morale.

“I’m not a star coach,” he says. “I’m an ‘everybody coach.’ I care about what you put into it, not natural ability. I care if you work hard.” Coach Putnam expects that level of effort in academics as well, and it shows: The track and field team holds some of the highest grade point averages. And their work has paid off. The team has garnered several accolades this year, including senior Jack LaFreniere capturing State Championships in both the 200- and 400-meter dash events, and sophomore Amber Dostie finishing on top in the 1000-meter event at State Championships.

by Nico Tarquinio ’10