Charlie Powell has worn many hats in track and field.
Until his retirement in December, Powell was the head men’s track and field coach at the University of Pennsylvania for nearly three decades. He also has been a member of the Penn Relay’s Planning committee and, in the past, was the director of the Relay’s Distance Night.
Powell also served as a head coach at Delaware and was an assistant at Western Kentucky, where he excelled in his own right as a collegian as a decathlete and hurdler.
The passion still continues for Powell, who couldn’t be happier at his newest endeavor. In early January, he accepted the post as the Director of Track and Field at SPIRE Institute in Geneva, Ohio. He oversees all the track and field programs at SPIRE, which includes a high school boarding academy, a post-graduate boarding academy, a full schedule of camps (school year and summer) and some of the most prestigious events in the country.
Powell made his decision to become part of SPIRE only days after he left Penn, where he produced 14 All Americans, two individual national champions as well as five team crowns and 100 individual titlists at the Heptagonal Championships during his tenure.
“Literally days after I retired, I got the call (from SPIRE),” he said. “It has been a whirlwind…It’s a big change. It’s a wonderful change.”
Powell admitted that part of the challenge of training athletes at the collegiate level is the training time that’s allotted, roughly a six-month span.
“If I wanted to work on doing technique work in September and October, I couldn’t do that,” he said. “The college training season has only 180 days.”
Similar to college, high school sports also have restrictions on when coaches can start training their athletes. SPIRE differs in the fact that it is a year-round program with a top-notch coaching staff and some outstanding facilities to work on your craft.
SPIRE Institute offers student-athletes the opportunity to go to school and train with Powell and his coaches. SPIRE also offers short-term camp programs, starting this summer. They develop the “Complete Athlete,” combining not only world-class coaching and advanced training programs, but also optimal athletic development with Michael Johnson Performance training, sport psychologists, nutritional programs with SPIRE Fuel and competition. Athletes share the campus with other world-class athletes from around the world.
SPIRE partners with the Andrew Osborne Academy, a nationally renowned prep school. Besides offering the ultimate resources for success athletically, it also gives student athletes the ability to receive a quality high school and/or post graduate education while living on campus.
“We have a place where these kids can come in and get a great education and also train at a high level,” Powell said.
The high school program reaps the benefits of consistency with the same set of quality coaches year round. The post graduate program also has its strong points. Powell indicates that many kids haven’t reached their full potential at the high school level upon receiving their diploma as seniors.
“Kids are graduating 16 and 17 years old and now all of a sudden competing with kids that are 22,” he said. “That’s a huge difference.”
Powell also brought up the fact that some students are not quite getting the best possible education during their four years because of some uncontrollable circumstances.
“We have interest from a student-athlete that has been to five high schools in four years because his father was in the military,” he said. “If he went to college, he wouldn’t be able to compete for a year due to a lack of core courses. We have another interest from South America. His math scores are very good, but his English scores are not quite as good. This gives him that extra year to become more proficient in English.”
SPIRE’s student-athletes have the luxury of an indoor facility - part of a 215,000 square foot multipurpose building - that features an eight-lane, 300-meter track with a 10-lane straightaway, long enough to contest the 110-meter hurdles. It also includes two pole vault pits, two long/triple jump pits, six different areas for the shot put and two more locations for the weight throw. The outdoor track is a standard, 400-meter oval that sits inside a 7,000-seat football and soccer stadium.
In 2012, the indoor complex was the home to the NCAA Division II Team Challenge, the NCAA Div. I Indoor Track and Field Invitational and the NAIA Indoor Track and Field National Championships. Plans for 2013 include the Big East Championships and the Big Ten Championships as well as the NAIA National meet and the NCAA Division II National meet.
“We want to try and give every athlete the best possible facility and opportunity to succeed,” said Powell, who also pointed out the facility’s 25,000 square foot banquet and meeting place that overlooks the track.
The SPIRE Institute, which is funded primarily through the Geneva area Recreation, Education and Athletic Trust (GaREAT), opened in 2009. It also offers boarding academy programs in Swimming, Volleyball and Basketball, with Soccer soon to follow.
Powell credits Ron Clutter, the visionary behind SPIRE, for its success and ever-growing programs for athletes of all ages and abilities.
“Ron is the main drive. He’s an intelligent, down-to-earth guy,” he said. “He’s got a great vision, a great drive to make it happen. His heart and mind is in the right spot.”
Located just miles away from Lake Erie, the SPIRE Institute sits on 120-acres of real estate. It’s similar to the Olympic Training Centers in California and Colorado with other amenities such as the full-time psychologist to work on mental aspect of competing and a staff nutritionist.
Powell outlines an effective, three-phase process that the folks at SPIRE utilized in its evolution as a top-rated training and education facility.
“They first built it. Many have thought about something like this only to see their ideas die on a drawing board or in planning sessions,” he said. “(They then) showcase it. (They brought) in top competitions and events so that athletes and parents of athletes can ‘experience’ SPIRE and all that it has to offer. (The third phase is to) fill it; begin the process of offering training programs – long and short term – and, more importantly, start the SPIRE Academy high school and post graduate programs.”
Powell, a hands-on-type of individual, is looking forward to his newest challenge. He also doesn’t feel it will be too different from what he experienced at Penn.
“Coaching is coaching and teaching is teaching,” he said. “The only difference, I just don’t feel restricted by all those rules. It’s a definite plus for kids. And the possibilities at SPIRE are endless.”
For more information about SPIRE, check out its website at www.spireinstitute.org.