During the fall and spring, Gordy Haskett spends nearly every waking hour in a specific square mile just east of I-5 between Encinitas Boulevard and Santa Fe Drive.
That’s because the popular San Dieguito Academy cross country and track coach also owns and operates Gordy’s Bakery on Encinitas Boulevard. That grueling fall schedule started last week as Haskett began his 15th season coaching the SDA boys and girls distance-running squads.
But as grueling as it is for Haskett — he gets to the bakery around 5:30 a.m. and gets home from practice most days at 5:30 p.m. or later — that’s exactly the opposite of how he wants cross country to feel for the Mustang athletes.
“Part of my job is to let them be kids,” said Haskett, who himself graduated from San Dieguito in 1978. “At San Dieguito Academy, academics come first. They have AP (classes) and club soccer, and at some point they have to be a teenager.”
With that in mind, Haskett reads the mood of his team and every once in while he’ll announce at the beginning of practice that it’s Game Day. That day, the athletes will play capture the flag or another group activity to lighten the mood.
Each year on his birthday, Haskett’s teams do the Donut Run, a fun event where runners are tied together and eat donuts between laps. That comes after the annual team time trial barbecue, this year on Sept. 23, where friends and family of the athletes gather for some team bonding.
But all of the fun times haven’t prevented Haskett’s teams from having success.
“The cream still rises to the top,” Haskett said, applying a metaphor the longtime baker knows a thing or two about.
While he has a pair of young teams this season, last year’s SDA girls squad took seventh place in the CIF San Diego Section Division III Championship race — the best finish for a girls team in Haskett’s time at the helm.
The 2015 Mustangs boys saw a top runner go down during the race and eventually finished 10th. The program has been much better than that in recent years, sending a team to the CIF State Meet for the first time in school history about 10 years ago and consistently finishing around fourth or fifth at the section championships.
The Mustangs open the 2016 season on Sept. 10 with the Bronco Roundup, hosted by Rancho Bernardo High at Kit Carson Park in Escondido. Haskett says this event will get the athletes’ feet wet, while it’s the Sept. 17 Mt. Carmel Invitational at Morley Field — the same course the Mustangs will run the section championships on in November — where he’ll really get a gauge on his teams.
The much larger SDA boys squad (there are 60 boys running as opposed to just 25 girls) has talent at the top with senior Ross Urbina and sophomore twins Zack and Conner Edwards. And with a lot of youth making up the rest of the team — Haskett says he has 23 freshman and 12 more sophomores — almost any one of the youngsters could step up as a surprise contributor.
“We have this wave of freshman and sophomores, some of them haven’t even raced cross country before, so we’ll have to see,” Haskett said.
On the girls side, junior Sarah Lavake leads the pack with a trio of seniors in Veronica Ness, Kyra Benowitz and Vicky Van der Wagt also in the mix. However, the Mustangs will be without the top two runners from the 2015 group that posted its best finish ever.
“If the girls can run as a very tight pack, they have a chance to sneak in there,” Haskett said.
Haskett knows of what he speaks as he could have run in college following a stellar career at San Dieguito, but chose to attend a culinary academy instead. Through culinary school, working as a pastry chef and even living for a year in England, Haskett, who was born and raised in Encinitas, never stopped running.
While in the process of opening a wholesale bakery in Carlsbad, he also ran for Grossmont College and fulfilled his dream of joining the prestigious San Diego Toads running club. Haskett has run all over the world and raced in more than a dozen marathons.
And for just over six years, he’s had Gordy’s Bakery, right around the corner from SDA. To his athletes, it is more than just a bakery and Haskett is more than just a coach.
“This is my office and they know it’s a safe place to come (and talk to me),” said Haskett, whose caring approach has resulted in the cross country teams going from 22 athletes his first year to the 85 he has now.