Sydney Norman

Carie Kuehn | Clinton Herald

The Fulton track and field teams have something unique. They have a jumping-specific coach in Lee Salazar, and the benefits of that are showing.

The Fulton girls team in sending eight events to the Illinois High School State Track and Field Meet in Charleston this weekend. Out of those eight events, four of those are jumpers (Daekota Knott, Triple Jump; Kearra Kohrt and Julia Lehman, Long Jump; Sydney Norman, High Jump).

Salazar, who is from Sterling originally, started out as a volunteer last season. That's when his work really started to shine through the Steamer athletes.

"I hadn't really done anything with track since I was in high school," Salazar said. He was a jumper and a hurdler in high school before a bad injury. "I thought I could at least help them a little."

Salazar started helping the jumpers run specific drills and strengthen certain skills to help them in their individual events. For some, that result was immediately visible.

"He is the reason I have come so far in my triple jumping," senior triple jumper Daekota Knott said about Salazar. "Without him, I would not be the jumper I am today."

Knott was one of the first athletes to benefit from the assistance. She even admitted that her freshman and sophomore year, she wasn't quite sure what kind of jumper she could be. Now, she's going for an outdoor state title after winning the indoor title earlier this season.

"Last year we kind of tweaked it a little bit and she [Daekota Knott] went from jumping around 33-00 to her longest being 38-00," Salazar said. "It helped quite a bit. Now she's super competitive and wants to win every meet."

Sydney Norman improved on her high jump and is headed to state after clearing 5-00. Kearra Kohrt and Julia Lehman both improved, with Kohrt breaking her own school record that she set her sophomore year. Triple jumper Sara Norman also has improved, hitting 35-00 this season and getting close to state qualifying distances.

His motivation to coach came for a couple of different places. He knew some of the athletes' families and saw them compete, realizing he could make a difference. He also looked back on his own track experience and remembered the kind of impact coaches like Mike Sullivan and Phil Smith had on him.

"I had the greatest jump coach, some of the greatest track coaches," Salazar said. "They taught us fundamentals that still 20 years I remember, it's so ingrained."

You can see him everywhere the Steamers are. He jumps from long jump pit to high jump pit at both the girls' and the boys' meets and practices.

"He has different drills set up every day, he's at practice, he's at meets, he's always there for us," Knott said.

The success is bound to continue with Salazar able to focus on the jumping side of things, but it's already apparent on both sides of the team. But if you ask him, it's nothing special he's doing. He can pass on his knowledge, but the big thing is that there are a lot of talented athletes coming out of Fulton High School.

"From what I've seen, when you're a coach you're lucky to have exceptional athletes," Salazar said. "I've been lucky. I have helped them tweak a couple things, but it's all them, coming out and performing."