Rainier Beach girls track team starts season with state championship in mind

RAINIER BEACH - For Jo-Nathan Thomas, head coach of the Rainier Beach girls track team, the bittersweet taste of placing second in the 3A state championship last year still lingers. The girls of Rainier Beach lost to North Central, a school in Eastern Washington, by a score of 69 to 42.

At state last year, Rainier Beach's track program was dominant in the running events. Charnay Combs placed first in the 200-meter event, Dyneeca Adams placed first in the 400-meter event, and with Marquita Brown and Deborah Spencer-Kirby joining Combs and Adams in the 800-meter relay, Rainier Beach also took home first place. However, according to Coach Thomas, the team lacked depth in the field events.

"We relied more on the legs of our runners to build on our total number of points instead of the field events," Thomas said.

With a majority of his athletes as juniors and sophomores this year, Thomas believes the girls of Rainier Beach can be a top contender, again, at this year's state event.

"A lot of these girls are strong athletes and we want to get the best runners out there," Thomas said.


However, one of the other challenges that the Rainier Beach track program also faces is the number of athletes on the team. With 18 girls on the roster, about six or seven girls will make it to state whereas other high school track programs in Washington take 12 to 13 girls to the event.

Rainier Beach faces some tough competitors in their division as well. Holy Names, Skyline and Issaquah are all strong contenders for this year's state title. Holy Names won the state championship in 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2005 while placing second in 2004. However, with the support of assistant coaches Peller Phillips, Ron Howard, Frank Ahern and Rob Gary, who is also Rainier Beach's current principal, they have a very intense training regiment for the girls.

"I actually call Coach Ahern 'The Scientist' because he is an all purpose type of coach. He finds all these great track books and reviews the videos," Thomas said.

The girls track program at Rainier Beach has a long history of success and worthy accomplishments. They have been honored with the state title in 1984, 1985, 1988, 2001 and 2004 while placing second in 1990, 1999, 2000, and 2006. In addition, the track program has sent numerous athletes to continue their running careers in college.

For example, Jacqua Williams currently attends Georgia Tech University playing basketball and running on the track team. During her years at Rainier Beach, Williams won three straight state titles in the 100 and 200-meter event, and was also a state long-jump champion. Ginnie Powell is another big name track star coming out of Rainier Beach. In 1999 to 2002, Powell dominated the hurdles and set the state record in the 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles that still stands. As an All-American, Powell attended the University of Southern California (USC) and is the defending NCAA and U.S. champion in the 100-meter hurdles.


This year, there are three dominant athletes on the Rainier Beach girls track team that competitors better prepare for. Charnay Combs, a sophomore, won the state championship in the 200-meters despite straining a muscle in the back of her leg moments prior to the race.

"It was one of those defining moments that athletes go through. She was shook up but sucked it up and helped us place second," Thomas said.

Dyneeca Adams, a junior, is another fierce athlete on the track team. In fact, Thomas has nicknamed her "The Animal" because she puts every ounce of effort and energy into her running all the time.

Adams won the 400-meter state title in a time of 56.97. During the summer, she began practicing with the boys on the track team. With the boys averaging a time of 53 or 54, if they decide to ease up at the end or not push to break their time, not only will Adams be just a few steps away, she will in fact run straight past them while meeting the boys at the finish line.

As one of the few seniors on the team, Deborah Spencer-Kirby is one of the most selfless athletes on the Rainier Beach line-up, according to Thomas. During the 800-meter relay last year, Spencer-Kirby held off Issaquah High School during the third leg of the event, for Rainier Beach to win the title. She is the captain of the team this year.

Spencer-Kirby ran on the community track team at the age of 8, but she stopped running until the beginning of her eighth grade year at Aki Kurose Middle School. Her involvement in track these past four years has helped her develop as an individual.

"I have definitely grown to be a stronger person. With the leadership that I learned to develop through track and now have, I know it will get me far in life," Spencer-Kirby said.

More importantly, Spencer-Kirby is grateful to her mother's, Teresa Spencer, never ending support.

"I really look up to my mom. She's made me realize the potential I have, has made me determined and helped me become the person I am today," Spencer-Kirby said.

With Thomas' fourth year as the head coach, his goal this season is to return and win the state championship. However, his ultimate goal is to see these kids as more than just athletes. When he ran on the Renton High School track team and played football as a free safety for Eastern Washington University, he saw a lot of great talent from his peers but did not understand why these individuals did not capitalize on their potential.

"I hated seeing wasted potential. It was, and still is, a burden on my heart," Thomas said.

Now that Thomas works with young adults on the field and as a staff member in the college preparatory course known as the Gear-Up Program, he hopes that young adults can realize the opportunities that are available to them by working hard and staying focused.

Beacon Hill writer Alice Liang may be reached via editor@sdistrictjournal.com.[[In-content Ad]]