Saturday May 4, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- Jeric Tyler doesn't have to bridge a generation gap with his Taconic High School boys track and field competitors.

Since he's 23 years old, and just five years removed from being a Braves runner and jumper himself, there isn't a gap.

That doesn't always work well for the first-year boys head coach, though.

"Some of these kids, the seniors in particular, have this concept of friendship moreso than me being their coach," Tyler said at Friday's dual meet with Pittsfield High School. "It's frustrating at times.

"At other points, it works out. They'll heed my word, and we'll be able to have an actual conversation about life and then about track itself."

Tyler took over the Braves' boys program from Matt Chamberlain this year. He had worked with at Taconic for the last four years, including last year as girls coach Paul Phelps' assistant.

He'd never thought about running a program, though, until Phelps talked him into it.

"It's more surreal than anything to be in this position," Tyler said. "Coming back and helping as an assistant, that was all good and fun."

He has plenty of experience from which to draw.

As a high schooler, Tyler won a Western Mass. championship in the 400 meters his senior year, followed by a state title in the triple jump. That earned him an All-Eagle MVP award.

He went to Westfield State for 31 2 years, running for just one indoor season -- "[I] was unable to do all the right things to sustain my job as an indoor and outdoor athlete," he candidly admitted -- and is currently a Youth Development Counselor at Hillcrest Educational Centers while looking to finish a criminal justice degree.

At Taconic, he mentors promising Braves like Dom Nda, the defending Western Mass. champion in the 100. Nda said Tyler has been most helpful in starts, strength and conditioning so far.

It also helps Nda to know his coach has been in his shoes.

"He's done the exact same things we've done," Nda said. "Now he's using his tactics and methods on us, and it's making us better every day."

Phelps -- also a former Braves runner -- took over the girls program at 28, and knows it can be intimidating to match up with coaches who first knew you as a competitor.

"You go up against teams like Mount Greylock, you know those coaches have been there forever," Phelps said. "At the same time, I feel being younger, you can make it fun and exciting."

That's important for Tyler, sure, but what matters more to him and Phelps is uniting the boys and girls programs.

Tyler said his younger brother, Kareem, and Hannah Barbarotta are the two Braves who have been most instrumental in that. Jeric Tyler knows his brother wants a leadership role at Taconic, and says it's been relatively easy to coach a sibling.

"I'm his big brother, so he looks up to me. He respects me," he said.

Perhaps that is why it's looked like Tyler has an easier job relating to his athletes than he lets on. Nda said he knows teenagers can be stubborn, but says his coach knows how to relate to them.

"I think there's a respect level you have to maintain with your coach at all times," Nda said. "He's an elder, and he knows what he [had to do] to get to where he is."

To reach Matthew Sprague:
msprague@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6254.
On Twitter: @EagleSportsZone.