For Pima Community College’s head track and field coach Chad Harrison, the key components of athletic preparation are a combination of effort and sports science.
Harrison is no stranger to the scientific world, holding degrees in health science and nursing science from the University of Arizona. He fuses this knowledge with his personal experience from many years involved in the sport to utilize both of his passions.
In 2011, former Pima track and field head coach Greg Wenneborg brought Harrison in as an assistant coach specializing in jumps, relays and sprints. A few seasons in, Harrison realized he could use his scientific knowledge in the sport.
“I basically revamped my whole program into science, I just took to science more,” Harrison said. “I thought, I have a degree in this, why am I not using it to apply it to this arbitrary thing called track and field?”
Maybe there is some magic to his scientific approach to track and field. During his decade-long tenure as an assistant coach at Pima, he helped produce eight NJCAA national champions and 21 All-Americans.
Last spring, after a tremendous track and field career that spanned 17 years, Harrison accepted a promotion to be head coach at Pima.
Harrison grew up in Benson and attended Benson High School, where he was a state champion on the 4×400-meter relay team. He holds the school record for the 4×100 meters, as well as the 2A South Region records for the long jump and 4×100-meter relay.
Harrison was an accomplished all-around athlete in high school, earning all-conference honors in basketball, football and track and field. He attributes his high school success to the coaches that brought the best out of him, specifically former Benson High School track and field coach Linda Lou Lamb and former junior varsity and assistant varsity basketball coach Whitney Holland.
“Miss Lamb was a phenomenal mentor to me, and I had other coaches like Whitney Holland, who just pushed me hard,” Harrison said. “They put things into perspective, kept you humble and tried to keep your ego in place and made you work hard.”
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Harrison attended Pima after graduating from high school and was part of the Aztecs’ track and field team. In 2003, he was named the team captain, qualified for nationals in the 4×100-meter relay and long jump and was named an academic All-American.
He attributes his success in the classroom to two other mentors in his life, his parents Clifton and Vera Harrison.
“There was no C’s in my household, with my mom and dad. If you get C’s, you’re going to have a tough conversation, if you get B’s, it was like ‘why can’t you get A’s?’” said Harrison. “I’m not saying they would have been disappointed if I got a C but I didn’t want to have that conversation with them.”
After earning his Associates Degree in Liberal Arts at Pima, Harrison returned to his alma mater, taking an internship as a volunteer assistant on Lamb’s coaching staff at Benson.
“It was a great opportunity and it was fun,” Harrison said. “I made a lot of good relationships, sent a lot of those kids to Pima, and coached a lot of kids to state championships; it was just phenomenal.”
During his time as an assistant at Benson from 2003-2007, Harrison helped produce eight state champions, two state runner-ups and nine region champions.
The Science of Putting in Work
After graduating from Arizona with a bachelor’s degree in Health Science, Harrison took a science and physical education teaching job at Alta Vista High School, a charter school in Tucson.
He coached the basketball and soccer teams all the while working toward, and eventually receiving a second bachelor’s degree in Nursing Science from Arizona.
When Wenneborg offered him an opportunity to be an assistant coach on a staff that included his former Benson teammate Jared Saunders, Harrison accepted the offer.
It took Harrison a couple of seasons as an assistant to realize that he could combine his love of science with the sport of track and field.
“My first couple of years were a struggle because I used to just work out with the athletes, I didn’t use the science associated with it,” said Harrison.
It was at that point when Harrison melded his two passions into one.
“I started using the science that I learned from my undergrad in the body, and began understanding the body movements and how to train the body and the muscle function. I took the biological network of the body and applied that to jumps, and then learned the jumps from somebody who had done it,” Harrison said.
“I took a whole week off of nursing, and I basically learned high jump long jump, triple jump, and just typed out these massive documents on how to set up the approach, and I applied what I already know about the body and how to get stronger. I just put it all together around 2012, and right around that time we started breaking school records, scoring higher nationally, and a few years later we started winning national championships. It just clicked because I put it into a science format.”
After a 2020 season heavily affected by COVID-19 safety protocols and a late start this year, the 2021 track and field season is underway. Harrison sees a promising future for his team, in what was Pima’s biggest track and field recruiting class in school history.
“Our team is very large, so the future is very bright for this program, but I think this year, we’re going to have a lot of success, and I think the team is really good,” said Harrison.
Success in Harrison’s program is earned through vigorous workouts from his players and a dedication to their craft.
“My jumpers and my track team get in the weight room and we work really hard.” he said. “I don’t care if the kid’s super talented, I want an athlete that would rather work hard, rather than a kid that’s super talented that doesn’t want to work,”
Standout performances for the men’s team this season include three national qualifying marks from freshman javelin thrower Reise Way (Buena), and freshmen pole vaulters Reece Gardner (Marana) and Bryce Williams. On the women’s side, the long jumpers took home a top three placement at the Mesa Outdoor Invitational, led by sophomore Raelynn Fair.
On a Pima track and field team that is bursting with young talent, Harrison remains focused on hard work and the science of success.
“Don’t reinvent the wheel,” Harrison said. “Someone’s already done it, you can put your spin on it, but don’t don’t change the science for the jumps, don’t change the science of coaching, keep your athletes humble and, more importantly, work hard.”
That formula of coaching seems to be working just fine for Harrison.
The Pima Men’s track and field team is currently ranked No. 12 in the USTFCCA/NJCAA Division I national rankings.
The Aztecs compete next in the ACCAC Meet on Saturday at Mesa Community College.
Follow Pima track and field on Twitter: @PimaTrack_Field
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com writing intern Kevin Murphy was born and raised in Tucson, and has followed Arizona Wildcats athletics since childhood. He is currently attending Pima Community College where he writes for the Aztec Press. Next semester he will be attending the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU where he will work towards a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication and Media Studies.