From the Bench: Best Boys Track and Field Coach in Seven States and D.C. Goes to BHS's Jon Griffith

By Jeff Toquinto on May 05, 2019 from Sports Blog via

It’s not as if Jon Griffith is void of emotion. Ask any of the student-athletes he’s coached in track and field for the past 31 years or any of his cross country runners over the last several years, and they’ll tell you that’s the case.
Ask Jon Griffith about his accomplishments as a coach at Bridgeport and, well, the emotion isn’t exactly bubbling to the surface. Instead, any inquiry on the steady stream of success in recent decades is greeted automatically with deflection and praise to his kids, his coaches, the community and the school administration.
It happens every time he wins something. And he wins a lot.
Here’s the thing, last week Griffith won something again. It wasn’t a track meet, or a lottery scratch off. Rather, it was something bigger. Something much bigger and making it more impressive was the fact it wasn’t the first time he’s won the honor.
Griffith was informed by Bridgeport High School Principal Matt DeMotto that he was named the National Federation Coaches Association 2018 West Virginia Boys Track & Field Coach of the Year.
It gets better. The information sent to DeMotto by the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission also noted Griffith won the same honors for the Mid-East Sectional Coach of the Year.
What does that mean?
That means that the NFCA believes that Griffith was the top coach in more than West Virginia. He was the top coach for a region that also included Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia along with The District of Columbia.
The NFCA uses the selection of the WVSSAC to choose the state winners. Then regional winners, which there are less than 10 nationally, are picked by the NFCA. About the only thing he didn’t earn was the national coach of the year.
Was Griffith pleased? He was. And without little emotion he said exactly what I expected.
“It’s a nice award and I actually won this before. Both times were after we won state titles,” said Griffith. “I’m pleased with it, but it truly reflects on everyone involved. It’s not just me. I’m glad for it, but it’s an honor for the program and everyone involved with it.”
Few in the state have been as involved with a program as long as Griffith and many of them – such as baseball Coach Robert Shields and Swim Coach Jan Grisso and probably others I’ve missed and will be slammed for on social media – are coaching right here at BHS. It’s what makes the Indians one of the top programs in the state.
While Griffith would never acknowledge it and truly believes the credit is shared, he deserves the lion’s share of it. He’s taken a program that never won state titles and never did much of anything and turned it into a perennial threat for state championships.
Think about this before Griffith’s arrival. From 1923-1988 – the first 66 years of competition – Bridgeport High School saw eight all-state athletes, one individual state champion, zero relay state champions, one Harrison County title, and zero Big 10 or regional titles. The club managed to score a total of 26 points at every state meet in the first 66 years and, not surprisingly, never whiffed a state title or even a runner-up slot.
Now, Bridgeport has had more than 26 points in boys track now at each state meet for as long as I can remember and have even had a single individual score that much at a state meet. County titles and Big 10 titles are combined in the dozens and state champions are well into the double digits.
All-State athletes? The first 66 years, as mentioned above, had eight. Since Griffith took over, it’s just short of 300.  
Despite downplaying the accomplishments, as the first paragraph explained, there’s emotion involved with Griffith. He may not want to take credit for where the program is at, but he knows where the program is at and knows from where the program once was.
“I’m very pleased to be able to be competitive most years. When I got here, there was virtually no track; dirt and cinders and only about a lane and half worth of that,” said Griffith. “Now, we have a nice facility, which has made such a difference.”
Griffith was among a large local group that decided in 1999 that an all-weather track was going to be put in place for the students of Bridgeport that could also be utilized by the community. Three years and hundreds of thousands of dollars raised later the new track was in place by 2002.
“With the new track you could host meets consistently. When you can do that, it leads to revenue and revenue in sports leads to opportunity,” said Griffith. “The financial gain to the program has made it better.”
That would be hard to argue. The state titles have both come since the new track was installed as well as the Tribe’s runner-up showing.
He also pointed to something else that has helped with the program. And he was insistent that honors such as this one simply is not possible without who is with him almost every single day when track practices and meets are taking place.
“We’re fortunate that our program has former graduates of the Bridgeport High School and Bridgeport Middle School track programs coaching,” said Griffith. “That’s a huge difference. They know what to expect and they know what I expect so it’s usually pretty smooth going on the coaching front.”
Griffith mentioned the assistants with ties to the program: Nathaniel Lutyens, Grant Burton, Jeff Weimer and Jacob Griffith. He also noted that girls state championship Coach Emilee Yurish is also a product of the Bridgeport track program.
“The odds are better to have an assistant you’ve coached when you’ve been around as long as I have been around,” Griffith joked.
That leads to the question just how much longer Griffith will be around the program with a chance to win another state title and NFCA honor. Perhaps ironically, he talked about emotion.
“I know it’s not time because I still get excited. I still get frustrated, angry and happy. As long as the emotions are there it means I’m still into it and I can tell you I’ll be there for sure next year,” said Griffith. “From that point on, everything will be year to year.”
Then, he reverted to standard Griffith.
“No matter how long, any success I have will be the result of being surrounded by good kids, good coaches and a good community,” said Griffith.
Some things never change. That includes Griffith’s demeanor and the fact he just keeps winning.
Editor's Note: Various photos, several by, show Coach Jon Griffith coaching or posed for pictures. He's shown with two of his five state titles in the second photo. Griffith has won two track championships and three in cross country.

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