Updated: 12/10/98

Interview w/Orv Hess

Nationally Ranked School

Campbell County HS of Gillette, Wyoming was ranked #1 nationally (Girls) and #3 (Boys) in the 12/8 Harrier Magazine Foot Locker/Adidas Super 25 National Rankings. We have known Coach Orville Hess for about a decade, with this certainly not the first success he has had with a Boys' group. 4:10 1600m runner Jim McCreery led some strong squads in the late 1980's and early 1990's. In the last few years the female half of the program has emerged at a frightening level. As usual, "Curious Minds Want To Know???" so we asked Mr. Hess via e- mail some questions about his program. A soft spoken, quite unassuming individual, Orville is obviously one of the nation's great coaching minds. Juggling super successful Boys and Girls teams is a real rarity, with his answers we are sure of interest to many. As you can see below, once again success did not come without careful planning, with the subtleties of a well thought out program, motivated troops, and supportive community all significant. Enjoy--- here it goes--please send Orville a line at: ohess@ccsd.k12.wy.us to thank him for his efforts. 1) Describe the school situation at Campbell County (training terrain, where located, size, how spread out geographically do athletes live from school, etc.) Campbell County High School has an enrollment of about 1600-1700 students in grades 10-12. We are located in Gillette, WY, population of about 25,000. Our primary industry is energy related. We are the largest coal producing county in the U.S. and yet our largest source of revenue for the county is oil. The training terrain is somewhat flat to rolling hills. ( Occasionally we have to hurdle a jackrabbit along with hurdling the sagebrush! ) Seriously, we do most of our training on the roads and in the parks. Most of our athletes live in town although I have had athletes that have had to travel anywhere from 20 to 45 miles to get to practice. (I personally travel one-way a distance of about 16 miles.)These individuals that have a long distance to travel rarely miss our morning practice. They have truly made a commitment. Our school does have a program to compensate athletes' parents that live in excess of 15 miles from the school. The community is primarily blue-collar because of the energy industry. 2) A few years back you were known as a strong Boys program, what's with the rise of the girls half of the team? We had a girl (Kelly Rice) a few years ago that trained every bit as intensely as any boy I've had. The younger girls that came after her and trained with her duplicated her efforts. I simply provided them the environment to allow them to excel and remain challenged. Once the tradition begins I believe that it tends to continue although it still takes a tremendous amount of energy from the coach and the athletes. We graduate five seniors that have had a tremendous work ethic (Kristy Murff, Jennifer Vessa, Sandi Willey, Jessi Willey, Mackenzie Jessen). They will definitely be missed. 3) If you do have main responsibility for team preparation how has it been to split your time/efforts between the two successful teams? The only time I have to split my time/efforts is if one team qualifies (according to my criteria) and the other doesn't for a national level meet (such as the Vulcan in 1997). Otherwise, since our program is totally individualized, I monitor the progress of both the boys and the girls alike. In fact, during practice, I do not distinguish between the sexes. This past season was quite challenging since we started the season with about 70 athletes. As the season progressed we had some athletes still establishing a base, some were in developing their oxygen-delivery system through slow intervals and others were enhancing their training levels through lactic acid work. I could not have monitored this by myself and had the assistance of two capable assistants, Ron Kline and Irene Bucher. I normally spent 5-6 hours Sunday afternoon evaluating the progress of each individual and then set up their training programs for the coming week. I took a tremendous amount of focus and energy. 4) Briefly describe summer preparation--- Since the Wyoming High School Activities Association limits the days of contact with our athletes, the athletes are responsible for training on their own. Many of our kids meet in groups and train but most train on their own. In any summer we will have 75% do at least 100 miles. Our top girls covered 300 - 500 miles this summer and our top boys covered 500 - 700 miles. I expect we will have some girls over 600 miles this summer of '99 and some of our boys will approach 1000 miles this summer. This training is done on a progressive schedule and allows their bodies to adapt. We attended a summer camp for the first time this last summer and the ideologies, philosophies and work ethic learned seemed to have a tremendous impact on the team and their approach to training and racing. 5) What intangibles made this group of boys and girls so successful? I would have to say sacrifice, intensity and focus. This was as much as part of the coach as the athletes. We all sacrificed time over the summertime to insure that preparation was in place, both groups trained with intensity because of their focus on their goals. The boys had been denied the state championship for three years and felt they could win it and also achieve a national ranking. The girls felt that they could compete with anyone in the country and wanted to prove it. 6) What general tips would you have for a young coach who was just starting a high school program? I believe that the following are important to developing a successful program: 1) enthusiasm - it's contagious and cannot be hidden 2) passion for kids - there is nothing more rewarding 3) passion for the sport - this is the greatest vehicle to prepare kids for the real world and in the mean time create memories for a lifetime 4) willingness to listen and learn - there is always somebody that knows more than me about a particular subject and I can always learn from them 5) integrity - kids have to be able to trust you 6) faith - in yourself, in your program and ultimately, in your Creator. I hope this helps. Let me know if there is anything else, and thanks for asking. Orv Hess