By Susan Harman
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – It’s hard to imagine any high-school track program having a dynamic duo like West had in the mid-2000’s with Danica Haight and Taylor Freeman.
The two dominated the throwing events in the state, winning a combined six Drake Relays titles and six state championships. Haight, the elder by a year, is ranked third all-time in the shot put with a throw of 48.75 feet, while Freeman has the second-best discus throw (166-10) in state history. It’s no wonder the Women of Troy won three state track and field titles from 2006-08.
After being recruited by the best track programs in the country Haight went on to compete at Michigan, while Freeman competed for the University of Arizona.
Ten years after their heyday the two are back in their hometown and coaching their specialty on opposite sides of town.
Former West throws coach Brad Wymer, who still teaches at West but coaches at Solon, coached both during their prep years. He said he hoped the two would continue to follow their passion for the sport, but he didn’t expect them to get into coaching, particularly in Iowa City, because it looked like their careers would take them in different directions.
“I am glad that they have found a way to stay connected to the sport and to share their experience and knowledge with the next wave of shot putters and discus throwers,” Wymer said.
Freeman, who is in her second season at City High, said that since she retired as an active thrower she wanted to find a way to stay involved in the sport she loved and enjoyed.
“Another one of the reasons is I just wanted to give back,” she said. “I wanted kids to have the same awesome experience that I did in high school, knowing that their coach understands what they are doing and what they are teaching them and that they really believe in them.”
Haight, who is in her sixth year at West, said that while in high school she never considered coaching as a destination.
“I didn’t look too much into the future,” she said, chuckling. “But it’s a thing I know and love. I love sports, and I wanted to continue whether it was coaching or the business aspect.”
“I knew when she was finishing up at Michigan that I’d love to have her in our program,” West girls track coach Mike Parker said. “I knew she would be a great fit because not only is she a great athlete but she was a great student of throwing. The timing just worked out for us.”
City High girls track coach Joe Graf said Freeman was a great fit when the school had an opening.
“We really loved her personality, and of course her experience is a story in itself,” he said. “She really jelled with the kids, and the boys even listened to her and respect her.”
Haight got a bit of a head start after an injury prevented her from competing during her senior year in college.
“I just wanted to continue to help out the girls who were competing so I kind of got a little feel of (coaching),” Haight said. “I was sort of a grad assistant coach so I could still be part of the team.”
Wymer noted the two were already great mentors for teammates in high school and those skills and the technical know-how and experience they gained in college made them good fits for coaching. Both have worked at Wymer’s throwing camp.
“Watching them I agree that they have developed a true passion for helping others master the art of throwing,” he said. “I’m not surprised by this at all. Those of us that have been around the throws for a while and have coached the events know how rewarding it is when all of the pieces of technique and hard work come together for the athlete.
“When those pieces come together and you see the smile on the face of the athlete that has just thrown a PR, it is a feeling that you want to have again and again.”
Parker is known for his motivational emphasis as a coach. Technique is one thing but inspiration is another.
“When someone falls in love with it, that’s the last part of it,” he said. “You’ve got to be a people person and you’ve got to be able to share.”
Both women know the science of the sport, but they are bringing other intangibles with them.
Of course, Freeman also had the hurdle of coaching for the arch-rival high school.
“I give her so much crap: ‘You look bad in red’,” Haight said. “But I think it’s awesome.”
“We had that talk,” Graf said. “She’s perfectly fine with it, that’s the way she put it to me. She kind of giggled when we talked about it, but she’s on board with everything we do.”
Freeman could have helped Haight at West, probably as a volunteer but she chose to strike out on her own.
“I already knew that Danica is an amazing coach, and I felt like I was best needed somewhere else,” she said. “I’ve been out of the system long enough that colors don’t matter. I want to help kids have the same opportunity I did.”
The Brad Wymer coaching tree is beginning to bear fruit.
City High and West High will both be represented in the throwing events at the Drake Relays when high school competition opens on Thursday.
West High junior Chandler Haight has the fourth best mark in the shot put entering Drake competition while senior teammate Leah Dusterhoft brings the eighth best discus mark.
City High senior Luci Murphy qualified in both the shot put and discus and has the 20th best throw in the discus and 24th best mark in the shot put.