CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - National Scholastic Athletics Foundation announces Claude Toukene, Western Branch (Chesapeake, Va.), has been named Mike Byrnes Coach of The Year. Toukene has no doubt recieved this for creating one of the preiminent track, field, and especially hurdle programs in the entire nation.
For anyone who has read the results of any championship meet over the past six years it is very easy to pick out the top programs, and the one that stands out the most is Western Branch. Western Branch, or just the Branch, has amassed a small mountain of titles and awards over the past few years and it is very fitting that Toukane received this award.
Here are some of the teams' accolades over the past five years: 2009-2014 Boys & Girls Ranked US #1 Indoor Teams, 2009 Boys Outdoor State Champions, 2010 Boys & Girls Indoor State Champions, 2010-12 Girls State Outdoor Champions, 2011 Girls State Indoor Champions, 2012 Boys State Indoor Champions. These of course are only their state titles, they have numerous runner-up trophies as well to go along with their endless stream of regional and district titles too. Not to mention his numerous national and state champion athletes. Simply put, over the past five years, they have been the best program in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Not only has Toukene (Touks as his athletes call him) won many state titles both on the boys and girls side but he has created a culture of believing in yourself and believing you are a champion. He has always stressed teaching and visualization above training and that mindset has very much paid off. Though he has a long list of great coaching moves, one of the best has been making his high school the hurdlers high school. Through a stroke of genius, and well common-sense, he has created teams that hurdling is just something that is part of the workout and warmup. This has enabled him to create hurdlers out of athletes who probably never thought about it and it has paid off ten-fold. In indoors this was on display once again when his boys won the 4x55 shuttle hurdle relay and the girls came in second after clipping a hurdle, but still went under national record pace. Both of these teams will be ready to go come the outdoor season.
"Being coached by Touks was definitely something I would not trade for the world. I never ran track before meeting Toukene and in the span of four years he took me from being unknown to becoming a state champion and nationally ranked in three different events as a senior. He is not only father to me but to everyone he coaches, he picked me up for 6:45am practices when I could not drive or find a ride and if I ever needed anything he was always there. Toukene not only coached & taught me how to do things track and field related, he taught me life lessons and how to become a man. He is the reason I went to college and graduated, if it wasn't for Coach Toukene I would not be where I am today," remarked Jeff Artis (Western Branch 2009, Virginia Tech).
Despite having all these great accolades and so many of the top times all-time in the state, the one event and race that probably warrented this award the most this year was his girls 4x800m relay. This relay team is a very special group of ladies, they went 9:03.76 at the Penn Relays this year, at that time it was a US #2 time and only .40 off the Virginia state record. This team represents how his coaching is now spreading to his mid-distance program and how once again he is fighting against the grain and creating something few others would have thought to create, especially at a school that has been thought of as a sprint and hurdle school for the better part of the past decade.
Touks joins fellow Tidewater coach Eddie Williams (Bethel) as the only coaches to have recieved this award from Virginia. Williams received the award in 2006 which is the same year he had some of the best runners the state has ever seen, Francena McCorory.
Touekene was kind enough to allow MileStat superb access early in this season to film on of his practices, interview his athletes, and learn about his coaching. Check out that article and all the videos/photos here!