Karl Torchia was born with track and field in his blood, and it has continued to pump through his veins ever since.
A family tree that includes a track and field branch that goes back 90 years, combined with a blue collar work ethic, and an unrelenting passion for the sport provided the ground work for Torchia to become a very successful high school and college multi-event star, and it laid the foundation for him to become a legendary coach.
Torchia, who has been the head indoor and outdoor T&F coach at Christian Brothers Academy since the 2001-02 season, is one of those guys who just doesn't look right without a clipboard in his hand and a stopwatch around his neck. His blood type is T&F!!
When he's not at the track or the old legendary Barn for practice, or at a meet with his CBA squad, there is a good chance Torchia can be found crunching numbers for an upcoming meet until he falls asleep, reading up training methods used by coaching greats, or putting together workouts as he looks for every way possible to squeeze at least one tenth of a second off the PR's of all his runners.
Taking guys who can't break 60 seconds for the quarter as freshman and turning them into sub 50 guys by their senior year is one of many goals Torchia has strived to achieve, and something he's had a lot of success doing. Torchia takes it personally if he can't get every one of his athletes to steadily improve. He cares that much!
During Torchia's 19 years at CBA, he's continued the Colts' legacy of greatness and tradition of excellence, winning several state and national titles as he's helped CBA raise its staggering state record total to 107 State Group titles in all three seasons combined.
Here's CBA's State Group Championship breakdown for each season. All are state records.
- 30 XC titles
- 29 state relay titles
- 25 state indoor T&F titles
- 23 outdoor T&F championships
As for his career as an athlete, Torchia, who wrote up many of his own workouts when he was in high school, showed he had a lot of talent in middle school when he cleared 5-6 in the high jump and threw 126 in the discus.
During his days at Red Bank High School (Class of 1988), Torchia managed to do something that not many athletes have ever done - he threw the discus 164 feet, which was two feet further than he weighed! How many people do that? I've been around a while, and I can tell you that's very rare!
In high school, Torchia's PR's were - Discus 164 / Javelin 167 / SP - 48 / HJ -5-10 / 400m - 51.1.
After a very strong high school career, Torchia went on to star as a decathlete at West Virginia University (Class of 1992), where his PR's were - Discus 156 / Jav 198 / SP (16lbs) 48 / HJ - 6-4 / PV - 14-11 / LJ - 21 / 400m 50.01.
"We won't talk about the hurdles or the 1500,'' said Torchia, "OUCH!''
Torchia, as humble as apple pie and as hard working and driven as any coach you will ever find, said, "he's a much better coach than he was an athlete.''
What makes Torchia such a great coach?
His greatest strength as coach is that he has no areas of weakness. Torchia's background as a decathlete has given him experience in just about every possible discipline. While he's the first person to tell you that he has an incredibly gifted staff of assistants, Torchia is capable of coaching any event.
As far as all his success at CBA, there are people who assume that Torchia was handed the keys to the ultimate winning machine, and that many of his accomplishments are a product of the great culture that was already in place before he arrived.
While there is no disputing that CBA was already a great program for many years before Torchia's took over, there is also no disputing that Torchia had already proven that he was one of the state's best coaches well before he rolled into Lincroft.
Did you know that before Torchia arrived at CBA he had a historic run as head coach at Middletown South?
As the girls coach from 1997-2001, Torchia led Middletown South to the XC Meet of Champions title in 1998, the national indoor title in the DMR in 1999, and he was named the Girls State Indoor Coach of the Year in 1997.
Also under Torchia's guidance, the Middletown South girls won 10 Monmouth County titles, seven Shore Conference Championships, and six Group Championships. Torchia led Middletown South to several historic victories as the Eagles captured its first ever title at the XC Meet of Champions, won the the State Relays and State Indoor Track and Field Championships, and the State outdoor Group 3 Championship, all for the first time in school history.
That's not all.
As the Middletown South boys T&F coach in 1996, Torchia led his squad to its first ever Shore Conference Outdoor Championships, ended CBA's 19-year dual meet winning streak, and set a national record in the 3x400 IH!
How many coaches in NJ history can say they pulled off the Torchia Triple? XC Meet of Champions winner (Middletown South girls), national records with two different teams (CBA/Middletown South boys), and national titles with two different teams (CBA/Middletown South girls). Not many coaches can say they've done all that.
Be honest, most of you had no idea that Torchia did all that before he started his coaching career at CBA.
Fast forward back to the present.
If there was a NJ T&F/XC Coaches Hall of Fame, Torchia, the most successful boys T&F coach in NJ this past decade, would be a lock to earn a spot.
Torchia has achieved things and reached a level that not many coaches in US history have ever equaled. The numbers, and all national and state titles that Torchia has racked up are mind-boggling.
Check them out yourself. They will knock your track spikes off.
TORCHIA BY THE NUMBERS
- 194- Dual meet victories
- 100+-All-American athletes he has coached. (Although Torchia doesn't have an exact number, it's probably close to 200).
- 90-The only perfect score in state relay history when CBA won all nine events in 2011
- 61--Monmouth County Championships
- 47-Varsity school records broken at CBA under Torchia
- 42 - State Group Championships (36 at CBA/6 at Middletown South)
- 41-Times selected as Coach of the Year on county, conference, state, national, and regional levels combined)
- 28-Shore Conference Championships
- 17-Number of years that CBA has run the DMR at the Penn Relays under Torchia's watch.
- 10-Current state record streak of Non-Public A State Indoor Track and Field titles.
- 9-National Titles (8 at CBA/1 at Middletown South)
- 5-Number of years since CBA last lost a track and field meet to NJ team (indoors/outdoors combined)
- 3-Number of times chosen as a National Coach of the Year
- 2-National Records
- 1-Meet of Champions XC title (Middletown South girls in 1998)
- 1-Penn Relays DMR Titles (2011)
Q & A WITH TORCHIA
While you've already heard a little about Torchia's background, we will take a much deeper dive now and see what makes him tick, learn more about his journey from high school and college multi-event performer to one of the best track and field coaches in the nation, and find out about all the people who he learned from over the years.
Plus, we got Coach Torchia to reveal some of the greatest NJ high school moments he's ever witnessed during his coaching career.
How did you get started in track and field? What age, what club? Were your family-parents/siblings involved in track and field?
I started doing track in seventh grade because my brothers (Kevin and Keith) did it in high school. I wanted to be better than them. They threw shot and discus, so that is what I decided to do. My dad (Victor) did track for Long Branch high school, and according to him he was really fast and always won his races until he raced a guy named Frank Budd. Budd, who starred at Asbury Park High and Villanova, was an Olympian in 1960 and once held the world record in the 100-yard dash (9.2 in 1961). And my grandfather (Leroy Walling) ran track for Asbury Park High School back in the early 1930's (he was a hurdler).
When did you know that track and field was your passion and was something you always wanted to be part of in some capacity, whether it was competing or coaching?
When I was in high school my friends, Jim Powers, Geoff Harrison, and I used to make up the workouts to do. We kind of organized the practices and decided who would do what events. I got a taste for coaching then, and I've loved it ever since. I decided I was going to work hard and compete in the Olympics. It never happened. I had the passion, but not the talent. So after college I decided that maybe I can help others reach that dream.
How much of an impact and in what ways did your high school and college coaches help you as an athlete and a person?
At Red Bank High School, I was coached by Herb Reed - He was the nicest man that has ever walked this earth - He was always a gentleman, I loved that man for showing me you can be respected for being kind and thoughtful. There will never be another man like Coach Reed. He was not the most knowledgeable coach when it came to technique but he was the most caring coach I have ever met. I read a lot of books about technique and he would get them for me once in a while.
In college I had a few different coaches - The head coach was Marty Pushkin. He was also a very nice person with a good heart. Jeff Huntoon was a coach I worked with a lot. He was a very knowledgeable person and loved track and field. Coach Andy (Pintus) was our pole vault coach. He had more passion for his event than I have ever seen. He was a volunteer but came and worked his butt off with some great pole vaulters everyday.
I think they all added to the coach I am today. I try to learn as much as I can from every coach I meet. There are so many great coaches with so much knowledge. The coaches I coach with and the coaches I coach against all have taught me how to be a better coach.
When did you know you wanted to coach and what do you love the most about it?
When I was in high school, I fell in love with coaching and helping athletes like 400 runner Michelle Samuels. The best part of coaching is when you can take an athlete and pull every ounce of passion and heart out of that kid and you see him improve and get excited about it. The goal is to help that kid have an experience of being part of something he will always remember.
Sometimes the goal is to compete at a high level or just be a part of a great team full of guys he will remember as his brothers forever. It is also awesome to watch kids progress from one year to the next. There are so many aspects of coaching that make it exciting everyday, but it always comes down to the kids. They are the ones that keep you driven to come back and love the sport. Something new and exciting happens everyday in track and field.
How did you get involved in the decathlon? Did you run and throw and jump in high school? Hit with your high school and college PR's.
When I was in high school I was good in a lot of events but not great and any one event. I started hearing from colleges about doing the decathlon. I didn't hear from too many schools about throwing for them so I decided maybe they have a better idea than me, so I became a decathlete.
Let's get into your coaching resume now, starting with how and when you first got involved in coaching?
After I graduated from West Virginia, I got a call from the Athletic Director from Middletown South, Buddy Haines. He asked if I would come over and coach. I assumed he meant as an assistant, but he meant head coach. I got thrown to the wolves right out of the gate.
So I started as head coach right out of college with my new assistant Pete Bruno (Bill Bruno's brother). He showed me how to do the paper work and help me organize the army of kids. He was an incredible resource to help me get through my first year. I was also working for Ironman Training Systems training a full range of athletes from pros to everyday moms and dads.
What was the state of the Middletown South program when you took over and when did you have that first big breakthrough moment or turning point as a coach (first county title, or conference title etc.) when you started to sense that the program was headed in the direction you had hoped.
When I got to Middletown South the boys were not the most organized group of kids. They were a bunch of great guys that were willing to learn. We started out well and went 5-2 my first year. We finished 6-1 in the 2nd year, and 7-0 in the third year, beating CBA in a dual meet. We got better each year, and by the third year we won the Shore Conf. Championship for the first time ever, and set a national record in the 3x400 IH.
Let's get into the dual meet victory over CBA that ended their long winning streak. Tell me what you recall about that and how huge that was?
CBA hadn't lost a dual meet in track since 1977 when we beat them in 1996. They had a 135 dual meet winning streak that we ended. It was a huge deal because CBA was a such a powerhouse.
I remember driving over to CBA during the XC season (1995) to congratulate Coach Tom Heath on his 200th XC win. It was a nice short talk and then I left. I later found out Coach Heath told all the XC guys that I stopped over to say, "Congrats and you better enjoy this because you are going to get beat outdoors." Of course I didn't say that, but it made for a good rally call for Coach Heath to get his team motivated.
After the meet when we beat them, everyone shook hands and one of the kids shook my hand and said, "you called it all the way back during XC". I didn't know what he was talking about, but Coach Heath later told me the story. If you know Coach Heath - you know the story is true.''
How would you describe your years coaching at Middletown South? It was obviously a great opportunity for you to launch your coaching career, and you made the most of it.
A lot of people on the outside think you just walked into an already great program at CBA and just kept a good thing going. They have no idea what you did at Middletown South.
My years at Middletown South were a great learning experience. I met a ton of great people and we won a bunch of Championships. I can never thank the Athletic Director Buddy Haines enough for giving me the opportunity and pushing me into the head coach role. Also, Pete Bruno helped organize me and taught me how incredibly important it is to be organized. Kathleen Clifton came in later and was a fantastic assistant and taught me so much more about training.
On to the next chapter of your coaching life. Tell me again how how far back your relationship with legendary CBA coach Tom Heath goes, how he inspired you, and how you wound up coaching at CBA.
Coach Heath had asked me a few times to come over to CBA and take over indoor and outdoor right away, and later XC when he retired. I was friends with Coach Heath's daughter in high school, but he didn't know me then. I went over to her house one day and saw newspaper clippings of track and field stats spread out on this desk. I knew if I was going to be a good coach, I had to study statistics like Coach Heath did. It was my first glimpse into how to be a winning coach.
In 2001-02 I took over from Bob Maier and then took over outdoor from Tom Heath. I later decided not to apply for the XC job when Coach Heath left. I felt being the head coach at such a high level for all 3 seasons would really wear me down. I also knew Sean McCafferty would be better for the XC job. It worked out really well. Indoor overlaps XC by about 2 weeks for us. Sean and I work really well together.
As I mentioned earlier, you took over a strong program at CBA. But that's not as easy as people think? There is a lot of pressure that comes with coaching at a place like CBA where winning is expected every year. What was that like, dealing with the huge expectations. What was it like in the beginning for you?
The coaches that were at CBA at the time were great and supportive - Tom Heath, Dave Duh, and Bob Maier. It was always a team effort right from the first day. It was CBA vs. everyone else. It did take a little time to get used to having a target on your back at every meet. Everyone wanted to beat us.But I remembered that when I was at Middletown South, I wanted to beat CBA as well.
We just have to keep reminding ourselves that winning has to be earned everyday and no one is going to hand it to you. Just because you have those three letters on your chest, that doesn't entitle you to a win.
Looking back at your early years at CBA, what do you recall was your first big breakthrough moment as coach where you felt like you had really felt you had arrived as coach? What was that first big signature moment at CBA for you?
Two come to mind.
The first was in 2003. We were at a championship meet, and the meet was on the line and we had to pick someone to race the 200m at the end of the meet. We needed four points to lock up the championship. I asked all my assistant coaches, but they didn't want to make the decision.
I remember Coach Heath saying this is your first big decision as head coach. I decided to go with an exhausted Matt Threharne. I remember everyone second guessing my choice saying he couldn't place. I just knew how hard this kid worked. We had a long talk before the race and he responded with a fourth place finish to lock up the win for CBA.
Secondly, I had a young man that was not a very good runner, his best time in the 800m was 2:35. But he worked his butt off for a month in his senior year and he ran 2:06. I remember Chris Bennett (CBA's assistant coach at the time) coming over to me and saying - "That may be the best coaching you will have ever done. No one else could have gotten that kid to run 2:06."
Being USA Today's ALL-USA Boys Coach of the Year in 2012 was obviously a huge feather in your cap, and you've been East Region, State Coach of the Year, Shore Coach of the Year To coach the No. 1 girls XC team in the state and the No. 1 boys track and field team in the state for several years is something I don't think anyone else has ever done. Of all your great personal accomplishments, which are you most proud of and why?
My greatest personal accomplishment by far is my three daughters, Kase, Kampbell and Kassidy (who are all keeping the family legacy going with their involvement in track and field). I thank God everyday for blessing me with them. I will never be able to accomplish anything better than them.
As for Coach of the Year honors, I am proud of all of them - each one is very special to me. The one that stands out in my mind right now is my first Star Ledger Coach of the Year indoors in 1997. I won with Martin Booker from Camden (he was the boys Coach of the Year). That is the first time I thought to myself we did something special. The kids really did a great job that year. They made me look good.
What would you say is the key to all your success/your greatest strengths as a coach that have enabled you to reach the very top of your profession?
I coach and have coached with some of the best coaches in the state or even the country - (at Middletown South - Kathleen Clifton, Anthony Dean-Neil, and Pete Bruno), at CBA Jerett Sanderson, Sean McCafferty, Mike Mazzaccaro, Andrew Cusick, Chris Bennett, Tom Heath, Dave Duh, and Bob Maier. I have been blessed to work with the best for a really long time.
CBA is also so supportive from our great AD, Vito Chiaravalloti, to our Principal, Ross Fales, to our President, Brother Frank Byrne. We also have the greatest Alumni support in the country. They are behind us 100%. It is much easier to win when you have had all the support I have had. I also truly believe God gave me this gift to coach. I am not good at anything else, so he had to gift me with something.
What do you love the most about coaching and why?
I love watching the kids get better. They always amaze me with how they can endure and conquer goals. There is nothing better than a 68 second 400m freshman turning into a 50.0 400m senior. I still get totally excited for the freshman championships. I think it is one of the most important meets of the year.
I love to see the future of the sport happening competing and progressing. I also still get totally jacked to watch any incredible race, and I still get butterflies when we win a championship. My love for the sport is still there.
TORCHIA'S TOP MOMENTS
Torchia has obviously had some great teams and athletes as coach at Middletown South and CBA. So what does he consider the top 3 moments and or highlights from each team that he's coached?
TOP 3 AT CBA
1 - Winning the State Indoor Championship (Non-Public A in 2011) with a perfect score of 90 by capturing all nine events. It was never done before, and hasn't been done since.
2- Winning the 4x800m relay at the 2012 New Balance Nationals with a time of 7:34.67, No. 2 in state history and No. 9 in U.S. history! It was so much faster than I thought we would run.
3- Winning the DMR at the 2011 Penn Relays. There is nothing like watching your kids jog around the track holding up the American Flag.
TOP 3 AT MIDDLETOWN SOUTH
1- When we beat CBA in a dual meet in 1996 to end their streak of 135 straight victories. It was CBA's first dual meet loss since 1977.
2- When the Middletown South girls got second in the SMR at Nationals in 1997. No one expected that.
3A- Winning the girls DMR at Indoor Nationals in 1999 in 12:13.80. That team consisted of Maggie Guiney on the 1,200, Joanna Bradley on the 400, Tara Froehlich on the 800, and Cate Guiney on the anchor.
Cate Guiney came back the next day a to run a then state record 10:27.20 to place second to Sara Bei (now Sara Hall) in the two-mile. Guiney's time stood as the state record for seven years.
3B-Winning the XC Girls Meet of Champions in 1998 with a team of Kate Bongiolatti, Sarah Brennessel, Jackie DeMaio, twins Cate and Maggie Guiney, Michelle Cullum, and Julia Baratta. Cate Guiney won the race in 18:06.
What are the greatest three NJ high school track and field moments that Torchia has seen as a coach from an athlete or team that he wasn't coaching?
1 - Watching Sydney McLaughlin (Union Catholic grad in 2017) race for all four years. She will go down in NJ history as one of the best athletes of all time.
McLaughlin, who became a U.S. Olympian in the 400m hurdles at the age of 16 in 2016, owns several state and national records. She's regarded by most experts to be the greatest high school female track and field athlete in U.S. history.
2 - When Adam Sarafian of Ocean Township cleared a state record 17-4.5 at the 2004 Shore Conference Championships at Brick. I remember when he first started vaulting in high school, so to see him go all the way up to 17-plus and breaking the state record was just unbelievable.
3 - I'll never forget when Ron Dayne (Overbook High School) kept pounding the fence over and over again with the discus at the 1996 Meet of Champions at South Plainfield. You had to see it to believe it.
It was one of the most incredible things I've ever seen.
Dayne, who won the Heisman Trophy as a running back at Wisconsin before playing in the NFL, wound up smashing the state record that day with a throw of 215-3, which he shattered a week later when he won the Golden West title by launching the saucer 216-11. That stood as the state record for 16 years until Sam Mattis of East Brunswick unloaded a 218-4 at the GMC Relays in 2012.