It was dirt when Dwayne Evans ran sprints around Phoenix South Mountain High School’s track.

He loved basketball but didn’t possess the skills to take him far. He played around with football but didn’t like being hit.

But on the track, Evans took a lane that drove him to Eugene, Ore., where Lane 1 on a rain-washed track and a broken spike, hands flaring out, didn’t stop him from running 20.22 seconds in the 200 meters at the U.S. Olympics Track and Field Trials, a record that 41 years later still holds up in Arizona high schools.

At 17, recently graduated from South Mountain, Evans won the 1976 Olympics bronze medal in a slightly slower time in Montreal.

And now, at 58 and coaching on a now-polyurethane surface at South Mountain, Evans still waits for his record to go down.

Everybody has a theory why records like Evans’ 200 and Dallas Long’s shot put record of 69 feet, 3 inches in 1958 at Phoenix North have stood the test of time, even with cutting-edge training techniques and the boom of personalized training.

“This is an age of specialization,” Evans says. “In my day, athletes would do three sports. Now, he’s focusing in on one sport, football or basketball. That’s also another reason why you see so many injuries, because you’re getting overuse of your muscles in that one thing. It’s the same repetitive motion over and over and over.”

Richard Thompson, who worked with Evans since he was 9 and still is coaching (now at Phoenix Arizona Lutheran Academy), calls speed the rarest gift known to mankind. And Evans had that born gift.

“You can teach people to be anything – a scientist, a doctor, a lawyer, you name it,” Thompson said. “Speed is not something that you can teach. There is a theory how athletes are made and not born. That’s simply not true.”

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Longest-held state record

At Goodyear Desert Edge, Tyson Jones, a junior, puts chalk on his neck and hands and takes the 12-pound shot and heaves it beyond the dirt area and into grass, over and over and over, making it look easy.

Jones has Long’s record in his sights. It would arguably be the greatest achievement, next to Evans’ 200 mark, in state high school track and field history. When Long threw more than 69 feet, it was a national record. He became an Olympic bronze medalist in the shot in 1960 and won the gold in the ’64 Games.

Jones thinks that if he doesn’t do it Saturday in the Chandler Rotary Track Invitational at Chandler High, he’ll break it before he graduates in 2018. Jones, a 6-foot-4, 290-pound offensive lineman in football, threw 64-11½ on March 4 in the Buckeye Lions Club Lanier Calvert Memorial meet.

That ranks third best in the nation this year, and tied for fourth longest with Paradise Valley’s Jim Camp (1982) in state history. It is the longest toss in a meet since Tempe’s Dwight Johnson heaved the steel ball 67-½ in 1987.

And right behind Jones this year is Oro Valley Canyon del Oro senior Turner Washington, who has the nation’s eighth-longest throw this year at 63-1¼. Phoenix Desert Vista’s Elijah Mason also has thrown better than 60 feet this season.

They all will be competing for the gold at Chandler.

Washington is within Johnson’s 1987 state discus record of 212-11 with an early-season toss of 208-4.

“Oh yeah, I can break it,” Jones said of the shot record. “It’s going to take a lot of technique, determination, hard work. I think I’ve got it.”

Jones turned to the shot when he was 7 when he felt he was too slow to run.

His father helped him find the best throws coach to refine his technique. Over the years, he got bigger and stronger, and here he is, not an overnight success story.

In a mock meet at Desert Edge, Jones threw 67 feet.

He believes he has it in him to break the oldest state track record.

“Just to be the best thrower in the state, break the record,” Jones said is what pushes him.

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Sports specialization

Phoenix Mountain Pointe track coach Tim O’Neil, who built a reputation at Phoenix Brophy Prep taking sprinters and turning them into state-record hurdlers, was key to Devon Allen becoming a world-class hurdler.

Allen ran the 110 hurdles in his first Olympics in Rio last summer after winning the U.S. Olympic trials. He set state records in the 110 and 300 hurdles at Brophy in 2012 and ’13. When he broke Eloy Santa Cruz hurdler Mossy Cade’s 1980 state record in the 110 hurdles as a junior, that was considered huge. He then broke it twice more, before getting to 13.48.

Two years after Allen set the state record in the 300 hurdles at 36.39, his teammate, Bobby Grant, broke it in 2014 at 36.24. Grant now is one of the country’s top 400-meter hurdlers at Texas A&M.

“Even with the Brophy kids we had, almost all of them played football,” O’Neil said. “In my conversations with Devon or someone else, if they wanted to do something else in the summer, I’d tell them, ‘Just let me know. If you want to get ready for football, let me know.’ The students and parents, it’s their conversation. Not the coach. I don’t write the tuition check. I don’t determine what’s a good experience in high school.”

But O’Neil, like many coaches, has noticed how specialization, having year-round training from a paid specialist, has led to athletes peaking early, ending up burning out and not breaking records that could have been.

Now with an Arizona Interscholastic Association bylaw that begins in July that opens new lanes for high school coaches to work year-round with their athletes, specialization could get worse. And records could go untouched.

“Personally, I think that specialization is the No. 1 cause,” said Goodyear Millennium track coach Muhammad Oliver, whose son, Isaiah, starts at defensive back in football and competes in the decathlon in track at Colorado. “In the past, the top athletes played three sports during a high school year. Today, many of the top high school football players and basketball players don’t take track seriously or they don’t do track at all.

“High school and club coaches hoard the top athletes with promises of Division I and professional opportunity, if they focus on that single sport and pour all of their effort into it.”

Brophy coach Bill Kalkman believes a rare combination of amazing talent and great coaching has to come together to get to Arizona-record performances.

Allen and Grant, he said, “were naturally fast,” who, “trained really hard over multiple calendar years, and they focused on their hurdle events for several seasons before they put up state-record hurdle marks.”

. . .

South Mountain has the state’s most decorated track coaching staff. Joining Evans’ staff this year is Maurice Greene, who still holds the world record for 60 meters and won four Olympic medals, including gold in the 100 at the 2000 Olympics. He is the former world-record holder in the 100 at 9.7 seconds, when he ran that in 1999.

When told that Evans’ Arizona high school record still stands, Greene said, “That’s greatness there.”

For his own world record, Greene said, “It’s a pleasure to continue to hold (the record), but I always say, ‘Records are meant to be broken.’

“It keeps pushing our sports forward as many times it gets broken.”

Evans has never boasted about his achievements, remaining as humble as he was in 1976 as he is now when he works with sprint-record wannabes.

His daughter, Terra, who ran at Texas Tech and now is recuperating from a dislocated ankle to try to make the Olympics in the bobsled, said she never knew her dad did anything special until she got into an argument in third grade with classmates wanting her to get her dad’s autograph for them.

“I’m like, ‘For what?’ ” Terra said. “They said, ‘He’s famous.’ I said, ‘No, he’s not. He’s just my dad.’ I’m arguing with these kids. I go home and say, ‘Dad, these kids think you’re famous and they want your autograph. I tell them that you’re not.’ He said, ‘Well, I kind of am.’ I said, ‘What did you do? How come I didn’t know?’ I’m here looking crazy. I told the kids they were wrong, and they were right.”

She never saw films of him running until junior high.

Now, Dwayne Evans’ Olympics poster hangs at the school where he is revered by current athletes who tell their coach they’re striving for the 2020 Olympic Games.

“You’ve got to have some God-given ability,” Evans said. “You’ve got to have the right will and attitude. You’ve got to have a great support system, people believing in you.

“For me, once we realized I could possibly qualify for the trials, I didn’t say much about it. Coach Thompson would say things about it. They would look at him in amazement. You’ve got a 17-year-old kid, and he’s telling people he could make the Olympic team. He believed in me. And I believed in him.

“Now, I’m in a situation where I’ve got a couple of athletes saying, ‘I’m going to be in the 2020 Olympics.’ So, who am I to tell them that they wouldn’t be? It’s a huge stage, an enormous feat. But how can I tell them they can’t be?”

Saturday’s meet

What: 77th Chandler Rotary.

Where: Chandler High’s Austin Field.

When: 4 p.m., elite events begin.

Notes: The meet has grown to 157 high schools from 10 states with 4,200 entrants. Nationally ranked marks are expected. The girls 1,600 meters is loaded with Rio Rico senior Allie Schadler having a chance to break former Desert Vista star Dani Jones’ state record. Jones ran the 1,600 in 4 minutes, 44 seconds, at the Chandler meet in 2015. Schadler will be going after Grandview (Colo.) phenom Brie Oakley, who set a national indoor high school record in the 5,000 meters in New York recently with Schadler in the field. Morgan Foster of Chandler and Annie Hill of Glacier, Mont., also are in the 1,600 field.

Suggest human interest stories to Richard Obert at [email protected] or 602-316-8827. Follow him at