Chiles State Champions Return To Alma Mater To Give Back

(Photos courtesy of Chris Tucker/Donald Lamb/Bob Thomas) 

Coaches are often underpaid, overworked, and overlooked in the world of sports.

And to be more specific, assistant coaches in the world of high school track and field tend to be teachers at the school or volunteers who enjoy the sport. But at Chiles High School, there is a significant difference with the assistant coaches that have been hired by head coach Mike Phillips.

Three of Coach Phillips' coaches are former Chiles track and field athletes, but also individual state champions for the Timberwolves. Phillips was excited and honored to bring back Chiles alumni as coaches and it was just icing on the cake for them to be State Champions.

"We have a rich history for such a young program, and having Cole (Upthegrove), Carly (Thomas), and Justin (Cromartie) back is enabling us to continue to build champions here in Tallahassee." 

Sprint and hurdles at Chiles are overseen by Justin Cromartie, the most decorated hurdler to come out of Chiles HS. Cromartie is certainly qualified to be the sprint and hurdles coach at Chiles as his accolades include six district titles, four regional titles, two state titles, an all American title, and Brooks PR runner-up in the hurdles.

Coach Cromartie is excited about where he is in life as he said, "It feels amazing to be back coaching; Chiles track and field opened so many doors for me as an athlete, and I don't think I'd have that much of an impressive resume if I had ran for any other team in Tallahassee."

Justin competed at South Plains Community College in Texas before moving back home to focus on his career path, Veterinary School. But the fire and energy that Justin had for track had not burned out and he was eager to reconnect with the Chiles track team.

"I was really the only breakout hurdler/sprinter that Coach Gowan coached and I wanted to take the opportunity to help future Chiles athletes, and I didn't want this opportunity to slip through my fingers." 

Cromartie is excited about the squad he has and is looking forward to a bright future in the next couple years.

"My success and journey with Coach Gowan is the methodology behind my training, I've kept so many workouts of his but have also been able to slip in a few things I've picked up as a collegiate athlete and I also use the detailed knowledge I have gained from the sport."

But it is not just the future that excites Cromartie, but the present, as he has two district champions and he advanced three relays to regionals. This being his first year as the Head Sprint and Hurdles Coach, Justin is looking to advance his hurdlers and the boys 4x4 to state.

"Seeing their progression from the beginning of the season up until now has been a big confidence boost because I feel as though I have the potential to open for them as many doors as Coach Gowan did for me, and I believe there is plenty of room for development."

Moving from sprints and hurdles to the event that Chiles HS has made a national name for itself, the distance squad. The historic distance program is headed by Mike Phillips, and assisted by someone I know very well, Carly Thomas who was the 3A 2009 FHSAA Cross Country Champion.

Carly was apart of a Chiles dynasty that won three out of her four 3A Team Cross Country Championships as she ran under the legendary Scott Gowan.

When talking about Carly, Coach Phillips said, "You can't underestimate the importance of having more voices when coaching these young athletes, and it certainly helps when that voice was a standout in her time at Chiles and Florida State." 

Thomas was on a team full of all standouts as some notable names include; Lily Williams (Vanderbilt), Rachel Givens (Auburn), and Jodie McGuff (Miss St). Carly ran on the 2013 NCAA National Championship Qualifying team for the Seminoles and played a key role in helping the Lady Noles win the 2013 ACC Cross Country Championship. Nowadays, Thomas mainly focuses on the distance girls and uses her experience and dedication to lead the reigning 3A Cross Country State Champs. 

Carly said, "My favorite part of coaching these wonderful girls is that I get to see them progress on and off the track and being a part of their lives is something I will cherish forever." Coach Phillips understands the importance of having a younger woman to influence these girls and knows just how crucial it is to have someone the girls can relate to.

Phillips said, "The athletes respect Coach Carly because she put in the work and the results speak for themselves, and these girls have someone to aspire to be."  

On the throwing side of things, Cole Upthegrove helps guide the young throwing squad of the T-Wolves. Upthegrove was the 2016 3A FHSAA State Champion in the shot put and learned a lot under the watchful eye of former Head Coach, Phillip Browning. Browning said, "He (Cole) is a student of the sport and is able to find minor technical flaws and identify what needs to be done to correct them. He's a tireless worker and loves the Chiles team and it's athletes."

Coach Upthegrove balances his coaching with a full time job as he works with a neurologist in town, yet he still finds time to offer up his expertise to his athletes. Upthegrove started teaching his brother, Keith, and realized that he really enjoyed showing his brother the ropes and was grateful for the bonding time. After Coach Browning left, Cole felt the urge to step-up and try to fill the shoes and he added, "I'm not nearly the coach that Coach Browning was, but I knew I could at least get the kids started and see where it took us."   

It hasn't been a nessecarily easy transition for Upthegrove, who just recently finished his high school career, but it has taught him a lot.

"Coaching is a lot harder than I thought it would be, but throwing is not an easy thing to learn either. I'm still learning how to throw well myself. Being out there is a good way to continue my learning, and pass on what I know."

Dedication and effort are two words that are used to describe Cole. Coach Browning spoke very highly of Cole when he said, "He's a state champion so he knows the dedication and effort it takes to fight your way to he top.

The knowledge he is sharing with the next generation of Chiles throwers is invaluable and well worth the athletes' attention. Current Head Coach Mike Phillips has enjoyed watching Cole interact with his athletes because he is so well-liked and because of his State Championship medal the throwers respect and want to work harder.

"It's really hard to win a state championship and these guys understand that. So to have a coach who can get in the circle and show them what they are doing right and wrong is something that is beyond value." 

The key to success of these coaches according to Coach Phillips is there ability to connect with these athletes, yet still maintain space. The young and upcoming coaches are credible and passionate and the athletes that want to get better are feeding off there energy and producing big time results.

Mike Eto, the athletic director at Chiles, is happy to have old athletes come back and step up in coaching roles.

"Having alumni that know how to win is truly a blessing for the program, and its a win-win situation for them to come back and gain valuable coaching experience, and in return our young kids get to learn from the best."

Young and energetic, these coaches are ready for the FHSAA State Finals.