Hutchinson boys coach returns as Relays’ ref

FAIRMONT – Len Lasley has consistently overcome the challenges created by the ever-changing rigors of injuries, ineligibilities and changing conferences during his nearly half of a century of coaching in the Minnesota prep ranks.

The Hutchinson Tigers’ legendary head boys track and field mentor, however, has faced an adversary this spring like no other – Sprinter, a morphed meteorological term or simply put, a wintery spring.

“In all my 45 years of coaching track and field, I have never seen a year weatherwise like this one. Winter just refuses to let it be spring, and we haven’t had a day in the 50s yet,” said Lasley, who will serve as the 58th running of the Sentinel Relays track and field meet’s honorary referee on Friday at Cardinal Track in Fairmont. “So far (as of April 24), one of our best days was 39 degrees and windy, and then it snowed the day after that. In fact, we still had snow on our track as late as April 20.”

Due to the daily high temperatures only reaching the 40s, combined with unseasonably-high amounts of snowfall throughout April, Lasley and his Tiger tracksters finally opened their outdoor season as an entire team just three days ago during a Wright County Conference quadrangular in Orono.

Lasley did, however, have three individuals and one relay team make their outdoor debut by earning spots in last Friday’s Hamline Elite Meet in St. Paul.

Junior Isaiah Barlow ran the anchor leg on Hutchinson’s 4×800 baton squad that finished fifth at the elite invitational in the Twin Cities before he netted 11th place in the 3,200-meter run by crossing the finish line in 9:30.19.

Senior Jordan Yira soared to a ninth-place distance of 41-6 1/2 in the triple jump, while sophomore sprinter Robbie Grimsley just missed qualifying for the 100-meter dash’s finals after earning a spot in the preliminaries.

Grimsley – one of the Tigers’ 2012 Class AA individual state qualifiers – returns to the tarred surface this spring after helping guide Lasley’s boys program to the Wright County Conference team championship a year ago.

Ironically, Lasley added another page to his illustrious coaching resume by returning to Hutchinson with yet another piece of hardware for the school’s trophy case. In fact, Lasley achieved a rarity by earning a team championship in a fourth different conference, adding the Wright County crown to his South Central, Suburban West and Missota league titles.

Add that unique accomplishment to guiding the Tigers to five True Team State Meets and a dozen Minnesota State High School League sub-section team championships, in addition to 42 individual place-winners at the MSHSL state competition, and Lasley is a guaranteed first-ballot Hall of Fame selection.

The low-key track and field mentor, however, has not set up hurdles each and every practice during the past 11 years since his retirement from teaching high school American history and government classes for individual accolades – he does it because it’s his passion.

“I love it (coaching). You have to in order to stay in it as long as I have. My theme is I have to give back to what’s been good to me and coaching this sport has been very important in my life,” said Lasley. “It not only keeps me involved with the school after retiring, but working with kids keeps me young (mentally and physically.)”

Only that intense passion for the sport literally keeps Lasley on the right track in getting his talent-laden roster prepared for this Friday’s Sentinel Relays and the rest of the track and field campaign.

“The weather keeping us inside has some of my kids frustrated, but I’m trying to keep a positive attitude and hopefully that rubs off on them,” said Lasley. “I lost all three of my hurdlers from last year’s team, and it’s even been a bit frustrating for me.

“Going over one hurdle in the gym does not really get the job done. It’s tough to teach technique under those circumstances, but we’ll stay positive and just do the best we can.”