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McNary alum makes return as XC coach

Rob Wood, who competed on the McNary High School cross country team as a student, is returning as its head coach. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)
Rob Wood, who competed on the McNary High School cross country team as a student, is returning as its head coach. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

Of the Keizertimes

Rob Wood’s introduction to running was a result of his somewhat lackluster performance as a discus thrower in middle school.

“I joined track because a lot of my friends were doing it. They put me into the discus and I threw it 40 feet and was last place. The next week we did the old Presidential Physical Fitness Test and I broke the school record in the 600-yard run.,” Wood said. “A week later, the teacher, who was also the track coach, came up to me and said, ‘We’re not going to have you throw the discus anymore, you’re running the 800.’”

Wood, now a biology teacher at South Salem High School, has maintained an active role as a runner and in the running community ever since. Beginning this fall, he’ll take over the helm of the McNary High School cross country team replacing Rick Fordney who retired in May. Wood is a McNary grad who competed on the team himself under Fordney’s guidance in the mid-1980s.

Wood is revamping some parts of the program while continuing the growth Fordney achieved during the past three years.

“I hope to take the building that Fordney has done and continue that growth in terms of the numbers of participants and in the achievement,” he said.

One of his first changes was moving summer practices to Keizer Rapids Park in the mornings rather than the high school in the afternoons.

“One of the reasons I’ve had them meet at the park is letting them see other runners and other runners see them. It helps us make connections,” Wood said. “I’d love to figure out ways to mesh what the team does and maybe some of the running events sponsored by the Keizer Chamber of Commerce.”

Because the changing of the guard happened late in the school year, the program will forego its usual camping trip to the Oregon coast and replace it with some one-day outings to more varied destinations.

“On one day, we’ll go to Forest Park in Portland and run on the Lief Erickson Trail, and then swing by Voodoo Donuts on the way to the zoo,” Wood said. “On another day, we’ll head over to Newport and run along the Newport Bay marathon course and then hang out on the bay for the day and play on the beach.”

Wood is also trying to schedule a third outing to Silver Falls State Park. Details will be posted to the team’s website,, when plans are solidified.

The coach’s approach to the sport differs somewhat from what might be expected in other athletic pursuits.

“It’s one of the few sports that high schools offer that you can learn for a lifetime. It’s difficult to play football your whole life and it can be difficult to find places to play baseball, but this is something you can do lifelong for your body. It’s a slow process, but its a sport where you get out exactly what you put in,” he said. “In addition to that, being a good teammate and accountable for your own performance are skills that make students into good adults.”