Alex Coleman discovered rather early into his high school days that you don’t joke about track with Phil Lonborg unless you’re ready to back it up.
During his freshman and sophomore years at River Ridge High School, Coleman would make a habit of reminding Lonborg, the Hawks’ former track and field coach, just how athletically gifted he was whenever their paths crossed in the hallways.
“I would tell him if I was on the team I would be his best jumper,” Coleman remembered about the tongue-in-check conversations. “I was actually just joking with him, and one day he said, ‘You’re doing a lot of talking, but you’re not really showing me anything.’”
Coleman took Lonborg up on his challenge two years ago. Lonborg retired last year after serving as River Ridge’s track coach since the school first opened its doors in 1993.
Admittingly, Coleman was about as green as could be when he jetted down the runway and jumped for the first time. Upon landing in the pit he had no clue if what he had done was of quality or not. Lonborg, though void of facial expressions, was sold.
“I immediately looked to over to him and he just said, ‘OK. You’re a jumper,’” Coleman recalled.
While Lonborg was quick to recognize Coleman’s track potential after the athlete’s first attempt at long jumping, it wasn’t until later on that Coleman himself started to buy in.
“I think the first moment I actually thought this was something I could do was the first time I triple jumped. I think I got 41 feet,” Coleman said. “I didn’t know if that was good or anything, and Lonborg came up to me and he just gave me this big hug. I started thinking this is something I could do.”
A second-team All-2A South Puget Sound League selection as a defensive back this past fall for the Hawks, Coleman knows his future is in football as he plans to play corner back at Linfield College. However, he’s hoping to take some track hardware with him when he moves to McMinnville, Oregon at the end of summer.
Coleman owns the third-best long jump mark in 2A this season, posting a jump of 22 feet, 2 1/2 inches at the Oregon Relays on April 15. He trails only Brandon Swarthout of Lynden (23-4) and Kyler Nygren of Black Hills (23-0.75).
He finished first at the SPSL championships with a leap of 21-8 and is headed into the West Central District III championship meet on May 19 and 20 at Renton Stadium as the favorite.
The state meet will be held May 25-27 at Mount Tahoma High School.
Coleman couldn’t have been introduced to the sport under better circumstances than what occurred during his sophomore year. The Hawks claimed the 2A overall team title in 2015 and received strong senior leadership from standouts Dejuan Frye, Ika Morton and Chris Leiba.
Morton finished second that year in the long jump at state. Coleman took home the fifth-place medal.
“That was just a good year for track. That was a great set up for me to come into,” Coleman said. “We had a lot of good seniors who really went out of their way to show us how everything is supposed to be done. It was a great situation to learn from, especially considering I had never done track before. Now I want to do what that class did. I want to leave a legacy behind.”
Coleman could do that in a number of events.
In addition to qualifying for the district meet in the long jump, he also joined Drayden Alexander, Tyler Robinson and Josh Braverman to help the Hawks win the 4 x 100 relay, as well as finishing fourth in the triple jump (41-1.5).
He is one of several Thurston County-based jumpers who should make some noise at the state meet. The high-level local talent has served as both motivation and inspiration for Coleman this year. “I think it helps to see that, to see everyone else have success (at the jumping events),” Coleman said. “It helps because they’re so close. It’s not like you’re reading about people in California or Florida. When you see their jumps, it’s someone right around the corner. It’s good to have that competition that keeps raising the bar.”
It has been one successful season after another during his senior year for the three-sport athlete. It all started for him in football when the Hawks won their first state playoff game since 1998. The momentum carried over to basketball where Coleman averaged nearly 10 points a contest and was a large reason why River Ridge made the district playoff tournament.
A top finish at the state track meet would complete the trifecta.
“(River Ridge football coach Steve) Schultz is always saying once you do good in football it carries on to basketball, then carries onto track,” Coleman said. “It becomes a pattern and you get used to it. You want to put in the work for it to continue to happen. It pushes you.”
River Ridge has a lengthy history of producing state championship-caliber jumpers. The Hawks’ girls team has won four state long jump titles, beginning with LaShonda Christopher, who won back-to-back 4A crowns in 1994 and 1995, and continuing with Janae Young (2001) and Lakeshia Cockrell (2003) in the 3A ranks.
The River Ridge boys are still seeking their first titlist in the event. Coleman hopes to change that.