For Bert Serrano, being at the 41st annual Fallon Elks Invitational track and field meet on Saturday was a special occasion.
It was like homecoming to the Churchill County High School assistant coach. After all, the late Ken Geis and Serrano worked as coaches to help create this meet in the early 1970s.
“To come back and see how it’s all progressed,” said Serrano, who coached at CCHS from 1971-92. “It’s great to know it’s become a tradition and people are still coming to Fallon to compete in the meet.”
He acknowledged the efforts of meet organizer Steve Heck, who is the Greenwave’s head boys coach and former athlete for Serrano in the 1980s.
“The meet they ran here was so efficient,” Serrano said. “My hat’s off to the community; they really came out in numbers to help run the meet. Most places, they don’t do that.”
The Greenwave compete today and Saturday at the Reed Sparks Rotary Invitational, one of the state’s largest and most prestigious invitationals.
“Going back to these high schools again is like, ‘Wow!,’” Serrano said, laughing. “I told coach Heck, ‘I promised myself I’d never get back on a yellow bus,’ and now, here I am riding a yellow bus again.”
Serrano lived in Arizona the last eight years and coached at North Canyon High School in Phoenix, however, he decided in the fall to return to Fallon.
Now coaching the high jumpers in addition to throwers and pole vaulters, Serrano brings to an already highly experienced Greenwave staff. In addition to coaching at Fallon, Serrano also served as an assistant coach at the University of Nevada, when the Wolf Pack won a Big West Conference title in 1993, and won Western Athletic Conference indoor titles in 2003 and 2004.
“You know, really, I enjoy helping out,” Serrano said. “I can give back a little bit, I can help out here and maybe give some ideas of something maybe we did at Nevada or something we did here in the past.”
Heck views Serrano’s return to the Greenwave coaching staff as a big plus.
“He’s just a wealth of knowledge,” Heck said. “He’s coached at the college level as well as all the years he put in coaching high school. He’s coached it all and he has an eye for anything.”
During his previous tenure as coach in Fallon, the track and field program won three state team championships in the old 2A division; the boys won in 1986 with a lineup that included Heck, while the girls won twice in the 1970s. Serrano wore many hats in his previous stint at CCHS, having coached football, girls and boys basketball, gymnastics (his gymnastics teams won two state titles).
“It’s great to have Bert with his experience,” Orong said. “I don’t think there’s another coaching staff in the 1-A that has the experience we do. And after losing Jose Salazar, who coached our high jumpers the last couple of year, to get a guy like Bert is like having icing on the cake.
“The thing is, Steve and I have been coaching here 16 years, having Bert around now is nice because we’re not the old guys anymore,” Orong added with a laugh.
Fallon has a long tradition of producing track and field standouts, including 2008 Olympic triple jumper Aarik Wilson. Another name that can be found this weekend at the Reed Invitational is Dixie Williams, who in 1994 set a meet record in the girls 100-meter hurdles (14.64) and a stadium record (14.44) that still stand.
“There’s a lot of tradition in track and field,” Serrano said. “You’re talking about really good, quality athletes who have come here. We’ve had some great jumpers, big pole vaulters, distance runners ... I remember John Murray from South Africa was a great coach with the distance runners.”
This brings back many memories.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Heck, who still holds school records in the 100 and 200 meters. “We talk about a lot of the old guys. You know, Bert understands Fallon and all the traditions we have here.”
The current squad features talented athletes who are very coachable, Serrano pointed out.
“I lecture quite a bit,” he said. “We break it down for them step by step, try to give them the biomechanics of it as well. It’s about getting fine-tuned and progressing. We tell them, get better every week. Even if you learn just one little thing, it’s going to help you. You’re going to improve and then, hopefully, by the time that regional comes around, you’re going to help us out.”
After all, a good coach is an educator trying to pass on knowledge to the athletes.
“I tell them, ‘You’ve got to know these things, you’ve got to know your event. Be a student of it.’ You’re going to do well knowing you have to work hard physically, mentally you’ve got to find out what it’s all about. It’s like a package deal,” Serrano said.
He also marvels about the facilities available at the Ed Arciniega Complex, including the all-weather track. Serrano well remembers the old 440-yard dirt and cinder tracks that needed to be lined by hand before every meet — and even then, coaches had to hope for the best on a rainy or snowy day.
“This is fantastic what they’ve done with this facility,” Serrano said. “You know, we had that track over at the junior high (Bradley Field). When I first got here, it had kind of like moon dust ... white powdery stuff. We replaced that, but we always had like a sink hole or something on that far curve where the start of the 220 was. That was always soft, so our kids always knew, when you’re running over there, don’t go into lanes 2 or 1, you just go down.”
Serrano, a 1967 graduate of Mineral County High School in Hawthorne and 1971 Nevada graduate who competed in three sports (boxing, gymnastics, track and field), remembers how his decision to move to Fallon was influenced by Geis. Another of his mentors was former CCHS football coach Tony Klenakis.
“They got me here and started having me coach everything,” Serrano said. “Gosh, I coached here 21 years (1971-92) and I think all but two of those years I coached three sports. So if you go three sports times 19 years, that’s a lot of seasons.”
Serrano tried to count the number of students and athletes he has coached over the past four or five decades. Interestingly enough, he is now working with the sons and daughters of students he coached in years past. He believes he might even have a grandchild in one of his sixth grade P.E. classes, which by the way, he teaches in a room built in the early 1970s for the high school gymnastics program he coached.
“There have been a few titles here and there, it’s been a heck of a go, looking back at it,” he said. “It’s been fun. Those accomplishments have been neat, and just following all the kids to see how they’ve progressed since they left Fallon, since they left the university. I still follow them, and that is very, very rewarding.”
One of the advantages of returning to Northern Nevada is being close to his own children — Analisa (a standout hurdler at Nevada), Angela and Rey. And like any longtime coach, he regards those athletes from years past as his own.
“Yes they’re always going to be, unfortunately, some of the kids I coached are like in their late 40s now,” Serrano said, laughing loudly. “It’s funny, I still look at them and it seems like just the other day for me. It wasn’t that long ago, but holy moly, it’s been 40 years. I’m still going, and like I said, it’s been enjoyable coming back here.”