Lexington High School’s boys track coach, James Hall, must be doing something right. Recently named a Division One Coach of the Year in his sports category by the Boston Globe, Hall has built a stand-out program in only three years as coach. His current 4 x 200 relay team, made up of Jayden Bai, Jake Wheaton, Branndon Uda-Thach, and Alexios Kontothanassis, won by more than two seconds at All-States (1:30.03). They also won the event at the Northeast Invitational (1:31.18) and finished second at the New England championships (1:30.47). They, too, were cited by the Globe.
So, what’s the secret to his success? Does he model good racing techniques? Hall lets out a hearty laugh. “No way. I’d tear a hamstring. I would never race against them. I was never much of a runner. It was just in emergencies.”
Hall’s own specialty, in high school and college, was weight throwing. He set records at Beacon High School in Beacon, NY, where he served as captain his junior and senior years, helping his team to capture league titles from 2006 until 2009. “I went to college at Northeastern,” he says. “Where I’m from, I wouldn’t have been able to go if I didn’t get those athletic scholarships.” He continued to excel among the collegiate ranks, earning bronze medals for the hammer throw in the 2013 New England Outdoor and 2013 CAA (Colonial Athletic Association) Outdoor competitions. He was also named All-CAA hammer thrower the same year.
Today, Hall directly manages all the Lexington High weight throwers, an award-winning effort he developed from scratch when he first arrived at LHS — including several girls who have taken up the sport. He leaves the immediate supervision of other track and field specialties to his crew. “I am lucky to have a huge coaching staff at Lexington where we have, per season, seven to eight adults total.” Thanks to his USATF level one training, Hall can step in to oversee any of the track and field events. “But it’s mostly on my coaching staff,” he says, adding, “They’re great.”
One of Hall’s stand out athletes this year has been senior Jayden Bai, a member of the previously mentioned 4 x 200 relay team. Bai was named an All Scholastics athlete by the Boston Globe, which listed a few of his many achievements: second in the 55 hurdles (7.79) and fifth in the 55 hurdles (7.81) at the New England meet, as well as being named a speech and debate Academic All-American. Coach Hall says of Bai, “he’s fast, he’s technical and flexible. Those are the things that make a great hurdler. He is one of the best in Massachusetts right now,” a distinction that also earned the young athlete a scholarship to Emory University.
Bai has clearly earned the spot, saying he is either at practice or in meets six days a week, leaving him little time for anything else but schoolwork. “I think it’s a tough squish of time for all the student athletes, but for me it’s just making up the time where it can be made up.” He limits screen time, tries to be super-efficient in class, and sets limits on his phone apps. “Eventually all the little things add up to where I’m able to manage all the time with track,” not to mention a heavy course load that includes advanced placement macroeconomics, microeconomics and college-level calculus.
Yet Bai says he is still having fun. “The team dynamic is really, really great. We’re all friends outside of the track too, so it makes us want to be at practice even if it means waking up at 6:30 AM for a bus. We all want to be there because we’re all supporting each other.”
The master hurdler also credits his coach. “It is unbelievable the type of work he does managing the entire team. He knows all of our personal best times off the top of his head. It’s always amazing when we go to these competitive meets. We know that every athlete is going to have our backs because Coach Hall trains us to be so good on the field and so good on the track that we really don’t need to worry too much about each other, because we know we all individually will place and do well.”
As the season winds down, both coach and the team will have earned a well-deserved break. But there are still a few more events to work toward. “This the most complete team we’ve ever had,” Hall says with pride. “Usually in Lexington all the points come from just the distance or the mid-distance. But this year our team was amazing all around in sprints, jumps, throws, distance. Everything was a complete team effort.” With that in mind, he is hoping to take the league championship as a start. “And then we’re going to try to win the divisional championship.”
He is also keeping his eye on a new throwing facility that is ready to open pending permitting from the town. The new space couldn’t come soon enough, not only for the coach and the team that spent the winter months training in often frigid, spartan conditions but also for the poor student who was hit by a flying discus during practice just weeks ago. “Fortunately, it only hit their shin,” Coach Hall sighs.