Inside the Exponential Growth of Track and Field at NHS

The Program Has More Than Tripled in Size in Just Five Years

The track and field team at Denver North High School is the fastest growing team at the school after more than tripling in size in under five years. Photo courtesy of North High School

When Sean Bowers was hired to take over track and physical education at Denver North High School (NHS) five years ago, there were only four—yes four—sprinters on the entire track and field team. Now, there are more than 80.

And that increase has continued despite the pandemic. Bowers said there would likely be even more if we had a normal past few years. The reason for the change? It’s as simple as word of mouth, he said. He’s made it his mission, with the help of his five other coaches, to establish a strong and enticing culture for NHS’s student athletes. And it isn’t going unnoticed.

“Back in the day, NHS was known for just the distance team,” Bowers said. “Our cross country teams were really good. We would show up to track and field events with a whole distance team, but no sprinters, no jumpers, no hurdlers, no throwers, no pole vaulters.”

When he took the job, the big hole in the program was the sprinters—Bowers’ specialty. Starting with that as priority number one, the program has grown massively since, and branched out into all the facets of the program listed above. The opportunities are there now for the students, he said, and it’s
been contagious.

“It’s really just a testament to the coaching, the kind of culture we build, how much fun it is, and the opportunities that the kids get and what they learn about themselves throughout that track season,” he said.

Although it’s exactly what he wants for his program, the rapid expansion in such a short time is “crazy overwhelming,” Bowers added. It’s not just the uniforms and equipment on backorder, but carefully stepping around the minefield of a pandemic the last few years, all while assimilating new faces in the coaching staff and team itself; it’s just been a big challenge.

Other than Bowers, who is the head boys’ coach, sprint coach, horizontal and vertical jump coach, hurdles and relays coach, the rest of the staff is comprised of:

Chris Aguiniga, the girls’ team head coach and distance head coach of three years (recently named head coach of cross country as well)

Pati Aguiniga, the assistant distance coach of two years

Albert Lucero, the shot put/disc coach of five years

Spencer Martin, the assistant distance and assistant hurdles coach of two years

Erbie Jennings, the assistant sprint coach beginning this year

Without his fellow coaches, managing the team would be impossible.

Since Bowers is in the school each day teaching PE, he’s seen firsthand how students are relearning how to be normal student athletes again. It’s been stressful, but the program allows a healthy release from the stress.

“The kids have been extremely patient. They’ve been working with us. It’s been overwhelming, but when we get to the track meets, we let those emotions out and use it as energy. It’s been amazing,” Bowers said.

For more from Bowers, check out the Q&A below.

Q: What’s the state of the program, and how do you all fare against your competitors?

A: We’re always looked at as an underdog. We face Denver East, Denver South. Those are schools that double us in numbers every year. But our kids are extremely athletic and tough. We rank high. We’re going to take first place in high jump, long jump, triple jump. We have so much more depth on our team than years past. We’re always setting goals and absolutely believe we can place first out of the teams in DPS no matter who they are.

Q: What separates track and field athletes from other student athletes?

A: I think it’s that ability to be a part of a team, but also have a little bit more individual control over your results and things like that. There’s no pressure on our kids to catch or throw a ball or make a basket. It’s much more primal and a bit easier. The kids catch on quicker. They build their confidence quicker. They see their improvement quicker. We score as a team, so you have that aspect, but it’s also 50 percent individual and how you do each week. I think that plays a factor in the progress the kids see.

Q: How does the program stand up against other programs at NHS?

A: We create an environment where there’s not so much pressure to perform, but instead we focus on the enjoyment of running. It’s the type of kids that come out for track and field and the personalities on our team that separate us from those other sports. We also have much more of an opportunity for kids to be a part of the “starting lineup,” so to speak. There’s 21 events in track and field and we get about three participants per event, so you don’t have to sit on the sideline and wait for those two minutes to get in and have your showcase. You can be a part of every meet every single time and add to that team score.

Q: How do you pitch that running can be fun, especially to athletes from other sports where running is used as a punishment in practice?A: One of my things is just teaching kids how to run. The more effective you are at running, the easier it gets. And kids are really surprised at how quickly they get into running shape. Once you’re in running shape and you don’t enjoy it, then absolutely no hard feelings. You can walk away. But we sort of focus on that “runner’s high” so to speak, and the enjoyment we get from that feeling. But also, there’s no risk for concussions really, no risk for torn ACLs. It’s an extremely healthy sport that will give you those lifelong, individual skills. And there’s more of an adrenaline rush than I think kids expect.


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