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Summer Series - More Than The Ring

June 17, 2013
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Courtesy: Texas A&M Athletics
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(photo: Texas A&M Athletics)

Ask Pat Henry about all the national championship trophies in his office -- he added another earlier this month by the way -- and he brushes that talk off.

"I'll have time in my life to do that," he says. "Now's not the time."

It's in that simple statement that you get a sense for what drives a man who has won 34 national team championships, seven coming in his nine years in Aggieland. There's not much more he, and his program, can accomplish.

Helping our young people get to a point in their lives where they can take the experiences of athletics and go into the real world and be successful, that's why we coach.

"We do have expectations," Henry said. "We recruit people who have expectations for themselves. And our expectation isn't always to win a national championship.

"What we're trying to do is get the people that we recruit, who we think are good athletes, to improve, to continue to improve, and to be able to do it on the day that counts. We feel if we can do that we'll have a good opportunity of being in the mix. And if we're in the mix I think we have a shot to win, and that's the way I'm always going to look at it."

He talks about the "challenge", which he says begins anew as soon as the season's final race concludes, and how that is what keeps him going.

You may think he's talking about the challenge of a national championship -- but that is only part of it -- and not the most important one.

You ask him about being able to stand back and watch his kids lift trophies in the air with mile-wide grins. You ask him to look back at all the years spent recruiting the student-athletes, watching them grow from kids into young men and women. You do that, and you see his reaction, and you see what really drives both him and this wildly successful Aggie track and field program.

"Helping our young people get to a point in their lives where they can take the experiences of athletics and go into the real world and be successful, that's why we coach. When you see those things happen with them, you know these values and these principles they're learning will take them into the business world. And that's our goal.

"We want to win, because (those values and principles are) part of the environment of learning how to win. (They're learning) not just how to win on the track but how to win in the real world. That's what we're trying to do."

And win they have.

The Aggie men brought home their fourth national championship in the last five years (wins in 2009, 2010 and 2011 as well). The women finished second, marking an amazing five consecutive top-three finishes at nationals -- including, oh by the way, three national titles of their own (2009, 2010, 2011).

Track is a unique sport in that you don't have one set "squad" that you will take to a national championship as you do in say baseball, or basketball, or soccer, and so on. Athletes have to earn their spot first into an NCAA preliminary round (somewhat like a regional in other sports), and then have to perform on that day to punch their ticket to the finals.

You never know what your team you'll take to the championship will look like until the event is almost there. But you do know that you need one group working as a unit towards the collective goal of hoisting a trophy at the end of the year.

"We make mistakes from time to time, but we think we get a good group in here. If they follow a plan, and that's what we're trying to recruit, then we have an opportunity to be successful. We're recruiting people that are trying to be good, that are good listeners, good learners, and accept change as part of trying to get better. . .thinkers. People who think about being the best they can be at what they do. And that's the people I want in this program. That helped establish our program."

This year, Texas A&M took a whopping 29 athletes to Eugene, a number which led the nation. Track is known as an individual sport on the international level, but Henry says that's not the case in college.

"It's about their motivation, their opportunity as a group, to come together and be successful as a team. And that's the real world. You go out in the business world, you have to operate the same way."

That real-world approach to athletics may perhaps be Henry's greatest accomplishment, which has led to all the on-the-track success. No better example of that may be this year's men's and women's squads.

The final day of the NCAA Championships is always a huge one. There are always a lot of team points on the line, and the overflow crowd of over 12,000 at "Track Town USA", inside Hayward Field, witnessed a maroon onslaught. What an amazing final day it was for the Aggies.

Women's 4x100 relay, national champions. Wayne Davis II in the 110 hurdles, national champion. Sam Humphreys in the javelin, national champion. Ameer Webb in the 200, national champion. Kameria Brown in the women's 200, runner up. Women's 4x400 relay, runner up. Donique' Flemings in the 100 hurdles, third place.

Davis and Brown did so by running the fastest time in school history under any conditions. That pair along with Humphreys and the 4x1 relay all finished second last year, and returned the following summer to claim the title.

In the final race (men's 4x4 relay), a tremendous amount of credit goes to senior Ricky Babineaux who, after dropping the baton in the lead leg, had the presence of mind to retrieve it correctly and hand it off. Then, instead of hanging heads about the missed shot at a title in the event, the remainder of the relay team had the presence of mind to realize that any points would be huge -- and they finished eighth, getting one.

The team-first attitude of the relay squad -- and that one valuable point -- would end up clinching the Aggies the national championship.

"It was an Aggie day. It was one of the finest days, if not the finest day, I've ever had a team compete on that day."

And what the 2013 Texas A&M track and field teams accomplished -- not only maintaining the legacy before them but etching their own name into Aggie history -- is something that will be remembered for years.

"This is an Aggie team. But this Aggie team did some real special things. They will always separate themselves."

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