Lyle Barton has a simple answer when asked why he became a track and field coach more than two decades ago. “I was a former athlete and I never had any coaching to help me get to that next level,” he said. “That always bothered me. I always felt that if I would ever get the chance, I’d jump at the opportunity.”
Good thing. Barton, who has been Cuyamaca College’s pole vault and decathlon coach the past 14 years, was recently selected as the 2014 Assistant Coach of the Year for Men’s Track and Field by the California Community College Cross Country and Track Coaches Association.
“It’s a great honor to be recognized by your peers,” Barton said. “It really means a lot to me.”
Barton has found success everywhere he’s coached, which includes West Hills, Grossmont, El Capitan, and El Cajon high schools and Cuyamaca College. One of the first athletes he coached at Cuyamaca, Brian McLaughlin, still holds the school record with a vault of 16 feet, 10 and ¾ inches and later had a successful run at UCLA. At El Capitan High School, Barton led the boys’ and girls’ pole vault teams to the CIF Division 2 championships two consecutive years each.
Barton grew up in Chula Vista and competed in track and field at Chula Vista High School and Southwestern College before being stricken with Reiter’s syndrome, a form of arthritis that leads to pain, swelling and stiffness. He stopped competing at age 19 and later worked in the construction industry.
Because of his disability, he has had plenty of time to volunteer. And that’s what he does at Cuyamaca College. He is not paid for his time, which can reach up to 20 hours or more per week.
“Becoming a good vaulter is something that is developed,” Barton said. “It’s not natural to run as fast as you can, throw your hands over your head, and jump straight up. Then, if you think about it, you’re putting your faith in a pole that is less than two inches in diameter.”
“It really takes a unique person to do it,” Barton added.
Barton said the key to coaching is being able to break down an athlete’s vault and identifying areas that need work. He says it typically takes him a year to break vaulters of the bad habits they’ve learned over the years.
“He’s been really helpful to all the vaulters,” Cuyamaca College pole vaulter Shane Hoagland told The Star-News of Chula Vista after placing second at the 2014 state championships. Teammate Xander Law, a freshman who returns in the fall, placed fourth. “We’ve really gotten our plants down and got good jumping momentum. We do a lot of drills in the preseason before we even have our first meet.”
The California Community College Cross Country and Track Coaches Association cited more than just Barton’s coaching ability when honoring him with its Assistant Coach of the Year Award. It also recognized him for his collegiality and willingness to coach other athletes when their institutions were unable to provide qualified personnel.
“Lyle Barton exemplifies the commitment to excellence that teachers, faculty and staff at Cuyamaca College has toward our students,” said Cuyamaca College President Mark Zacovic. “We are proud that that he has won this well-deserved honor as Assistant Coach of the Year.”
Barton says he is thankful to be at Cuyamaca College.
“I love Cuyamaca College,” he said. “The administration has always supported the track and field program, and that makes a big difference when you have that.”