ABERDEEN — Shaun Straka knows potential when he sees it, even if other coaches don’t.
“I started seeing kids that no one else wanted to work with. They were gangly and uncoordinated, but they had that ‘it’ factor,” he said. “They either had long levers or big hands. There are weird things that I look for in athletes and I started plucking them back in the day.”
Straka started looking for track and field athletes for Team Evolution Athletics about 10 years ago. Not affiliated with any one school, Straka started out picking a few athletes from each school on the Harbor who he wanted to work.
The group of athletes that train with Straka have a tendency to make an impact at the state level, as the trainer estimates to have coached about 30 state champions since coming back to the Harbor to coach.
Straka hadn’t always planned on coaching aspiring track and field athletes but ended up back in the area while recovering from a car accident.
Straka credits current Elma athletic director Todd Bridge with helping him get back to coaching when he lost his motivation.
“He told me to pull my head out of my butt and to come to North Beach. He said, ‘I got a girl who’s worse than you as far as attitude who needs a coach,’” Straka said.
The girl with the attitude Bridge was referring to was Cherese Weidman, who took silver in the shot put with a distance of 36 feet, 9.75 inches at the 2B state meet in 2007 as a sophomore.
In the first few years of training high school track and field athletes, Straka’s pupils were making a name for themselves, though the team lacked a name of its own. That would change after a particularly strong meet where a parent, a little annoyed at the team’s success, asked what the group was called.
“We’re evolution. We’re the next step,” quipped one of Straka’s athletes in response. The parent then requested that Straka work with her daughter, Tera Novy, who eventually earned a scholarship to throw at USC.
The team later drew a Superman-style logo with an ‘E’ in the middle on a white T-shirt, creating the early version of the branding that currently appears on the team’s apparel.
A decade removed from the days of Sharpie-drawn logos on shirts, the group that trains out of Aberdeen has about 30 athletes working under Straka.
With a full-time job and six children of his own at home, that number of athletes can be almost too much to handle.
“Every year I say I’m done or I’m not taking any more kids,” he said. “Every year I say, ‘It’s too much, I can’t do it anymore and I’m spending too much time away from the family.’ Then I find a new kid and it’s like ‘Oh my God, this kid is amazing.’”
At this point Straka doesn’t do as much recruiting and will turn athletes down in some cases. However, one of his most recent successes ended up on his team because he caved to a parent who wouldn’t take no for an answer.
“For Karlee Freeman, I turned her dad down,” Straka admitted. “I told him I wasn’t interested, but he’s just a persistent man and eventually I let her start coming to practice.”
Arguably the greatest thrower the Twin Harbors has ever seen, Freeman won multiple state titles and national championships in her illustrious prep career, earning a scholarship to USC in the process. She most recently won the girls 17-18 year-old national title in the discus with a distance of 158-8.75.
Though throwing is his passion, the group he coaches includes football players, wrestlers and weightlifters as well. Regardless of what sport an athlete is training for, they’re going to have to buy into the program Straka has established at Team Evolution.
“My program is crazy, it’s different,” he said. “It’s not something you can Google and find online. It’s something that I’ve developed over the past 10 years. We’re doing things that are not being done in any weight room in Grays Harbor.”
The results of the training program have created a unique problem for the team. Since Straka doesn’t charge for his services, funding trips to the national events his track and field athletes qualify for has been difficult.
“As our numbers swell, we’re not sending (just a) Tera Novy to nationals, we’re sending six kids to natioals,” he said. “The cost of sending one kid to nationals is doable, six is a mortgage.”
Straka went on to say he hopes to get more local businesses involved in donating and sponsoring the program, but he is thankful for the support received from his sister, Sarah Navarre, who has donated time and money to his enterprise.
Money for the team is short and his free time is almost non-existent between work, the team and his family, but Straka still enjoys what he does. Encouraged by the next group of young athletes he’s working with, he doesn’t see any reason to stop anytime soon.
“I’m going to do this until I die,” he said. “As long as I’m smiling and enjoying it, there’s no reason not to.”