ESCANABA - A message driven home by his Escanaba High School coach has been a key component in a successful track coaching career for Chris Mantela.
Mantela recently was named coach of the year in the Macomb Area Conference, which is the state's largest high school affiliation with 26 schools. He is head coach for the boys and girls track teams at Class A St. Clair Shores Lake Shore.
Mantela, son of Doug Mantela of Escanaba and a 1993 EHS grad, has been head coach for 11 years, with only one assistant coach who handles field events and sprints. He is responsible for all the other events.
Lake Shore does not compete in pole vault because Mantela said the $15,000 for equipment is a stretch for the track budget. Minus those potential points, it is all the more impressive to learn the boys were 7-1 in MAC dual meets this season and missed the regional championship by one point last year and were second again this spring.
"We are one of the best (track) programs in southeastern Michigan," said Mantela.
Only 30 athletes comprised the two squads when he began, now there are well over 100 each year. The Shorians also draw student-athletes from East Detroit, Roseville and St. Clair disticts.
Mantela said Division 1 colleges recruit one or two Lake Shore track athletes each year and believes his teams will be among the top contenders over the next few years. Three school records were surpassed this year, including a 25-year-old girls 3200 mark.
He said he runs with his athletes each day. "It motivates me to stay in shape," he said.
He has a "personal workout (schedule) for every single athlete," he said, noting he follows a program used by the late Steve Prefontaine, one of the country's premier runners in the 1990s.
Mantela ran track and played hockey for the Eskymos, then played club hockey at Central Michigan University. He was part of the 400 and 800 relay teams which won U.P. titles and earned all-state honors, with Esky winning U.P. track titles in 1992 and 1993.
Now for that memorable message.
He said coach Russ Bluse provided a key moment in his developmental years that has been instrumental over the years.
After failing to turn in some classroom assignments to Bluse, he figured there would be a little break shown since he was on Bluse's track team. Not so, said Mantela.
"He literally kicked me in the butt so hard it hurt," he related. When he returned home after practice his dad asked how his day went, then asked how his butt felt. Turns out Bluse stopped at Doug's Dobber's Pasties shop to pass along the message he provided.
"That turned my life around," said Mantela. "You can slide through things but you need that person to kick your butt. I hold him (Bluse) to the highest degree today.
"Today it can't be done that way, but I deserved it and I needed it. It was great."