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Coach returns, moves over to North

When North Medford track and field coach Ron Toombs retired last spring, school district administrators moved quickly to replace him.

Without head scratching or great debate, former South Medford strength and conditioning coach Mark Hodges quickly topped the list.

We were looking for someone young and energetic to jump-start the program, says North Medford athletic director Mike Kay.

In 1998, the 35-year-old Hodges left South, where he had been an assistant football and track coach since 1989.

But even though Hodges and his family had made the long trek to the mid-South, it didn't take a great deal of soul searching for the Hodges to pack the van and head west.

I had talked to (Medford district athletic coordinator) Bruce Howell over Christmas vacation and told him if he heard of anything good opening up to give me a call, Hodges says.

He was an offensive coordinator and track coach at Carns High in Knoxville, Tenn., but was looking into possible head coaching jobs in east Tennessee and Georgia.

When Bruce Howell called and offered me the job, it was about the last thing I expected, Hodges says.

Hodges and his wife, Tracy, mulled it over for a day or two before signing on.

When we left South Medford, we didn't expect to come back that quickly, Hodges says. It's a whirlwind change. We took a look at the big picture. We were happy and doing well in Tennessee. But we missed living in the Rogue Valley and in my mind, North Medford is a potential gold mine.

There was a time that Black Tornado track was synonymous with state titles, producing 13 between 1940 and 1957 and 14 crowns overall.

the time Medford divided into North and South in 1986, the Tornado had a difficult time winning Southern Oregon Conference titles. Since the split, North hasn't challenged for a title, although it's boys were third this spring.

I know there has been a little bit of frustration as far as track and field, Hodges admits. All I'm going to try and do is bring it back one step at a time and improve the turnout.

Getting out as many kids as we can is the initial key step. That and developing talent at the middle schools.

It won't hurt that both Hedrick and McLoughlin middle schools now have all-weather tracks.

Once the enthusiasm is there, says Hodges, the records and championships will take care of themselves.

Hodges talked to South Medford track coach Bill Rowan before charting the return trip.

He's one of those people I wanted to talk to before I said yea or nay, Hodges says. He sees the big picture very well. There's not just talent, but a good facility as well. I know we're going to be rivals, but I'm looking forward to strengthening the overall track and field participation in the Rogue Valley with him.

The Bowerman Field track on the North Medford campus is also being resurfaced. Perhaps that will be symbolic of a new era.

Our expectation is for him to come in and put together a program that will make us a contender for the conference title, Kay says. He's going to be a great addition to our staff and personally I feel he's a great motivator of kids.