ELMA — All season long, Ray Stark had dreamed of joining his own personal brotherhood of state champion hurdlers.
That goal was realized last weekend in Cheney, when the Elma High School senior became the third member of his family to capture a state hurdles title.
After also winning the 100-meter dash championship, the 18-year-old Stark took the boys 300-meter intermediate hurdles at the state 1A track &field championships Saturday at Eastern Washington University. He succeeded his older brothers Christian, who had won the 300 hurdles in 2007 and the 110-meter high hurdles the following year, and Joel, the 2012 state champ in the 300s, on the victory podium.
Ray’s triumph was far from unexpected. The state runner-up in the 300-meter race as a junior, he entered state with a classification-best time of 38.21 — established the previous week at district, when he broke his brother Christian’s school record.
He exceeded even that performance at state, as he cracked the 38-second barrier for the first time. Although running by himself for most of the homestretch (he finished a full 1.5 seconds ahead of runner-up Brian Golding of Goldendale), he was clocked in 37.9. That was the state’s second-fastest time in all classifications, behind Eric Simpson of Class 4A Rogers of Puyallup.
“I always knew he could run in the 37s,” Eagle assistant coach Bryan Schneder said. “It was just a matter of the right conditions.”
Even with a state title in another event to his credit, Stark felt the pressure of completing the family triple crown.
“I was so relieved because there was so much pressure,” he recounted. “I told (Coach) Schneider, ‘You don’t know how much weight was off my shoulders.’ It was the greatest feeling in the world, though.”
“Ray has always competed with his brothers, but it’s been fun-loving and uplifting competition,” his mother, Elizabeth Stark, noted. “Each kid is thrilled for the successes of others. I think the pressures Ray has felt has been mostly from within. We already think he’s awesome.”
The previous state champions have followed their brother’s progress from outside the continental United States. Christian is serving in the Marine Corps, stationed in Hawaii. Joel is on a church mission in Brazil.
Interestingly, Ray credits his oldest brother, Aaron (who now lives in Ellensburg), with sparking the family interest in the hurdles.
A sprinter throughout most of his Elma High career that ended with his 2003 graduation, Aaron began hurdling midway through his senior year and fared well enough to place third at state in the 110 highs.
“He told Christian to start doing hurdles,” Ray said. “He did it and it went on from there.”
The 300 hurdles, in particular, is not an event that many high school tracksters embrace. It ranks with the open 400 meters as one of the physically taxing of all events, as competitors are forced to run at top seed for nearly a full lap.
“I think the boys like the hurdles because they really are risky…falling is always a possibility,” Elizabeth Stark speculated. “It’s such an exhilarating race to perform and the audience to watch.”
The Starks have some hurdles at the family home just east of the Elma city limits, but not until recently. The four brothers have never raced each other as a group, although Joel’s and Ray’s high school careers did overlap.
“He’d always beat me, every time, so it made me train harder so I could beat him,” Ray said.
Even in terms of hurdling, the brothers were not cut from the same mold. Elizabeth Stark believes hurdling came easiest to the tall, athletic Christian and hardest to Joel.
“Me and Aaron have the speed and Christian and Joel had the legs to get over the hurdles,” Ray observed.
As a state-class sprinter, Ray intuitively seemed better-suited to the 110 high hurdles. Yet the 300 has always been his strongest event. He hasn’t, in fact, even competed regularly in the short hurdles since his sophomore season.
Coordinating his steps between hurdles was Ray’s greatest difficulty in the 110-meter race. It even posed a problem in the longer hurdles.
“He was getting (to the hurdles) too fast,” Schneider maintained. “It’s not that he had a bad leg, he has a better (left) leg. We got him so he’d (clear) the first hurdle with his left leg and that set him up for the next three.”
With the 110-meter hurdles out of the picture, Stark had room on his plate for other events to add to the 300 hurdles and relay duties. He somewhat surprisingly chose the 100 meters, an event he had run only sporadically since his freshman season.
“Last year, I gave him a choice. He said he thought he wanted to do the 100,” Schneider related. “Who wins the 100 (meters) and 300 hurdles? You have to train differently.”
Accordingly, Stark usually spent two days per week on speed training and two others on hurdles technique. He said he hadn’t even considered a possible state 100-meter title until he started besting Hoquiam’s Devin Kelly, the eventual state 200-meter champion, in the shorter race late in the season.
“I kept beating him, so it gave me more confidence to place high in the 100,” Stark said.
As the youngest member of the Stark clan, Ray ended an era with his state hurdles triumph. It may have also been the final race of his track career.
Although he is weighing some college track offers, his current plans are to attend Northwest Renewable Institute in Vancouver with the hope of becoming a wind turbine technician.
If there are hurdles involved in preparing for that career, Stark figures to clear them.