Zach Beaton of Hermon High School clears the bar on his way to victory in the high jump during February's Class B indoor state track and field championships in Lewiston. Coach David King (background, right) looks on. Beaton has been one of the catalysts for the resurgent Hawks boys team, which hopes to contend for the title in Saturday's outdoor state meet. Credit: Courtesy Glendon Rand

Zachary Beaton was the leading point producer for the Hermon High School boys outdoor track team at the 2016 Penobscot Valley Conference Large School Championships.

But his sixth-place finish in the 300 hurdles marked the Hawks’ only point of the meet.

Beaton is now a junior and he and his teammates have spent this spring soaring toward the top of the PVC.

The Hawks go into Saturday’s Class B state championships at Foxcroft Academy in Dover-Foxcroft coming off a second-place finish at the PVC large-school meet. Hermon trailed only a tradition-laden Brewer squad by 16½ points and amassed 98 more points than it two years earlier.

Much of that success stems from Beaton’s development as he won four events — the 300 hurdles (41.61 seconds), high jump (6 feet), triple jump (42-6 1/2) and the 110 hurdles (a meet-record 15.07 seconds).

But Beaton defers much of the credit to a more competitive environment within the program fostered in great part by the arrival last year of new head coach David King — the former longtime track coach at Hampden Academy — and his son and assistant coach Jeff King.

“Having the new coaching staff has changed things up and given our athletes a new mindset to compete as we go into these meets,” said Beaton, the Class B indoor state champion last winter in the 55 hurdles, high jump and triple jump. “We have more of a motivation to win and more of a motivation to do better.

“Freshman year I really enjoyed the events but didn’t have the mentality or the form to do them well, but getting used to the new coaches and mastering the skills they knew I could do but I didn’t know I could do yet made me more capable of winning and performing at my best.”

King arrived in 2017 to a Hermon program with no home track but has nevertheless elevated the program’s competitive level as well as its number of competitors from the upper teens to the mid 30s.

“Obviously the experience is worth a lot along with the ability along with my son to build a program,” King said of his contribution to the team. We still don’t have the numbers we need. We have to work on getting those numbers but that’s a struggle all schools face because so many kids are choosing not to do athletics now.”

King and the program have made some strides in attracting more athletes to track and field.

“We’re still working on that,” he said. “This year we got a couple of good kids from the football program, Jordan Bishop, a senior, and Connor Patten, a junior, and we’re actively recruiting for next year because we have to build the numbers more than we presently have.”

In the meantime, Beaton has seen an increase in intensity among the competitors already on board.

“I think something that’s really important is that in previous years we had kids on the track team just to keep busy and keep involved in something after school,” he said. “Now it’s more something where you do it because you want to compete and do well in track.”

Hermon also has gotten a boost from the return to good health of senior sprinter James Petersen, who won the 200 — in a meet-record time of 22.60 — and the 400 (50.43) at the PVCs and also had the fastest qualifying time in the 100 (11.1 seconds) only to be foiled by a false start in the final.

Petersen missed his junior year of both indoor and outdoor track due to foot surgery, then missed the 2018 indoor campaign with a hamstring injury.

“I feel 100 percent now,” he said. “I’ve improved my warm-up habits, making sure I’m 100 percent before I go full speed and that helps a lot.”

Petersen and Beaton agree that the new competitive environment around the track program at Hermon is conducive to individual and team success.

“The practices are a lot more structured,” said Petersen. “Each person, whether you’re a sprinter or jumper or long-distance runner, has a goal for every workout so you do it at 100 percent.

“There’s no slacking off and as a competitor myself I view that as a good thing. As an athlete at that point you either persevere or you kind of quit, but we have a lot of athletes who have chosen to persevere.”

The Hawks practice twice a week at neighboring Hampden Academy and otherwise make the most of the weight room and other facilities at their own school.

“We do a lot of sprint workouts around the school,” said Beaton, who also was a member of Hermon’s Class B North champion cross-country team last fall.

That seniorless group that also included track teammates Braedon Stevens, Kyle Byram, Dylan Fowler, Ben Zapsky, Robert Pottle and Owen Shaw.

“We have to make do with what we have, we can’t sit around and wait for a track. We just have to go out and perform our best and then hopefully it will eventually come to us.”

Hermon faces several significant challenges Saturday in search of its first Class B state title, including PVC rivals Brewer and Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor, defending state champion Winslow, Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B champion Lincoln Academy of Newcastle amd Western Maine Conference winner York.

But the Hawks’ rapid rise during the last two years suggests that anything is possible.

“We’re going there expecting to give a state championship the best shot we can,” King said.

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...