Marvin Rouse has developed two state hurdles champions at Como Park High School. Niles Deneen was a winner in the state meet in 1994 and Aaron Larson in 1986.
The hurdles are a running discipline that takes a special talent, and Rouse always is on the lookout for a young athlete with a chance to excel.
Como Park’s track team still was working inside the gymnasium in the long spring of 2013 when Rouse took note of Trevon Clay.
“I talked to Trevon about the hurdles, and he was willing to give it a try,” Rouse said. “I showed him the three-step technique, and he picked it up right away. He was a natural.”
The three-step technique is required to clear the tightly placed barriers in the 110-meter high hurdles. The 300-meter intermediate hurdles require more stamina and are more forgiving with technique.
Now a sophomore, Clay won the hurdles events in last week’s Section 4AA meet and will be in the preliminaries of both Friday in the state meet at Hamline.
Clay was asked on Thursday how much credit Rouse, his 75-year-old coach, deserves in making him a hurdler.
“I was a sprinter … the 100 meters,” Clay said. “He taught me everything I know about hurdling. I enjoy this challenge.”
Trevon finds himself in a melting pot of a school at Como Park, with 1,400 students in four grades from five continents.
“We don’t have any students from Australia or Antarctica,” said Roy Magnuson, Como Park’s head track coach. “We have the other continents covered. We have 400 students from Southeast Asia and 150 from East Africa.
“The greatest thing I’ve seen in a school was at the Sadie Hawkins Day dance, where we had young women wearing their hijab, but also cowboy vests and boots.”
This acceptance of mixed backgrounds is a bit different from what Marvin Rouse encountered as a young man of the 1950s.
He grew up in Elmira, N.Y. He was the star running back at Elmira Free Academy for three seasons, while an athlete one year his junior, Ernie Davis, started at end.
Davis got the ball as a senior, and the recruiters descended on Elmira. Davis followed Jim Brown to Syracuse and, in 1961, became the first black player to win the Heisman Trophy.
He was the No. 1 selection in the 1962 NFL draft. He was diagnosed with a then-incurable form of leukemia; he never played in the NFL and died in 1963.
“Ernie and I grew up together; our families were always close,” Rouse said. “Some of his high school friends were among the pallbearers. I was one of them.
“Ernie’s death was hard for all of us to deal with … hard for the whole city of Elmira.”
Rouse wound up at Winona State in faraway Minnesota after high school. He competed in football and track, and gained a degree in sociology.
Marvin had his greatest successes in the long jump and triple jump, back in the days when those events were termed the broad jump and the hop, skip and jump.
Rouse was in Georgetown, Ky., with Winona State for an NAIA meet in 1958 when he had an astounding long jump measured at 25 feet, 11 inches. The world record at the time was 26-8 by Jesse Owens in 1935.
Winona State’s track team was back in Kentucky a couple of years later.
“We were traveling in three cars,” Rouse said. “Once we got over the Mason-Dixon Line, people were upset to see a black man traveling with all those white guys.
“They wouldn’t sell us gas if I was in the car. We had to play musical cars to get gas. And there was no chance to be served food if I was included.”
Rouse had another impressive meet in Kentucky.
“The worst thing I did to those people was to pass their anchor and win the relay,” he said. “The crowd was throwing stuff at me, oranges, garbage.”
Rouse went into teaching and coaching after Winona State. He came to Como Park when it opened as a high school in 1979. He was the head track coach for two decades, retired as a full-time teacher, and became the sprints and jumps coach for Magnuson (his former assistant).
And now he’s coaching in a place where his latest protégé, Trevon Clay, has only the hurdles on the track to overcome.
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. firstname.lastname@example.org