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Hernando High

Where Are They Now?

Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 06:07 PM

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This is the first story in a series highlighting Hernando High's 2012 Sports Hall of Fame inductees.

The first day Jody Spangler showed up for practice, Ernie Chatman said, he sported baggy pants and a pair of basketball high tops.

It was 1989, and Chatman had just resumed coaching the Hernando High boys cross-country squad, which had finished last in its district the previous season.

Chatman was trying to fill out his roster, and through contacts at Parrott Middle School uncovered Spangler, a freshman who had never dabbled in distance running.

"Once I saw him running, I saw he had a bit of a bounce to him," Chatman said, "I told his dad to never let him back to practice looking like that."

That was the start of a relationship with both a sport and a coach that still heavily defines Spangler to this day.

On Oct. 11, Spangler will be among eight former Leopards inducted into the Hernando High School Sports Hall of Fame.

The members of this third Hall of Fame class will also be introduced at halftime of the following night's home football game, against Sunlake.

"It's a great honor," Spangler said. "I had an opportunity to go down there back in January. I hadn't been down there in 10-12 years.

"I walked in the gym there and saw the Hall of Fame. To see those names, like Jerome Brown and one of my mentors, Ernie Chatman, it's a great honor."

Spangler's given first name is Paul, though he'll just as easily answer to his nickname.

The Jody moniker has stuck with him his entire life, originally meant as a means for his family to differentiate him from his father, with whom he shares a name.

Born and raised in Brooksville, Spangler traversed the typical route through the local system, playing plenty of baseball and basketball along the way.

During gym class at Parrott, students were allowed to play basketball after running two laps.

Knowing of Spangler's speed, his friends encouraged him to race around the track, as those that finished fastest claimed the best balls and courts.

One of those buddies, Matt Manuel, and his mother Barbara were the ones who put Spangler on Chatman's radar.

"I was really kind of floored that the high school coach wants to me to run," Spangler said.

That first season, Spangler was the Leopards' fifth-best runner in cross-country. He intended to join the baseball team, yet Chatman – also the baseball coach – convinced him to go out for track and field instead.

Two years later, Spangler was a state champion in the 3,200 meter.

"He was determined," Chatman said. "Once he committed himself to running, with the help of his parents taking him all over the state, at the end of his freshman year, he just blossomed after that.

"He knocked off two minutes by the end of his sophomore year, which is a pretty good improvement. He went from our number five runner to our number one runner as a sophomore. He's the type of person who wanted to be good at whatever he did."

Spangler said he ran seven days and roughly 60 miles per week. He felt lazy if he missed a day. He worked in the weight room. He attended summer camps.

By his final two prep cross-country campaigns, Spangler was a two-time district champion.

He never ran well at states, he admitted. Nevertheless, he was integral in Hernando establishing itself as a state power under Chatman's guidance.

State struggles were not the case in track. He lacked the speed for the mile, however the two mile played well to his endurance.

In the 1992 Class 3A FHSAA Finals, Spangler ran a 9:38.32 in the 3,200 to capture his state championship.

"It was awesome," Spangler said. "I remember the last 100 meters. I took the lead with 300 to go over one my rivals from Springstead (Eric Cummings).

"To come down the home stretch and cross that line was unreal. All the work from the last three years paid off."

The following year, he ran a 9:36. Joseph Gibson from Estero, though, completed the race in 9:34.82.

Making matters worse, Spangler failed in his quest to break the school record of 9:33 set by Jason Heatherly that remains current since 1982.

"That still haunts me today," Spangler said. "I can't go back and change that, but it's something to this day that bothers me.

"Some of it might have been pressure. When you're on top, there's pressure to repeat. Some of it was pressure I put on myself. And I did get sick a lot my senior year."

Regardless, it's hard not to call Spangler's prep career a resounding success. He was an All-State pick in cross-country once (1992) and track twice (1992-93).

"I was happy with what I did," Spangler said. "I could have done better. Knowing what I know now about the sport, I think there are things I could have done back then to be a better runner. But a lot of people didn't know about that stuff back then."

Spangler had various college opportunities laid out in front of him. It came down to USF and Alabama.

"I wanted to go big-time," Spangler said. "I wanted to go to the SEC."

Though recruited by the Crimson Tide, they did not initially offer him a scholarship. He was a walk-on, earning a scholarship his final two years.

Prior to graduating from Alabama in 1998 with a bachelor's degree in education, he pieced together an accomplished collegiate career.

He was an All-SEC selection in cross-country his senior year, and a two-time NCAA qualifier in 1996-97. He also participated in track and field.

"I wouldn't give that up for anything," Spangler said. "Being able to complete in the SEC, being able to compete for two national championships and getting a degree from Alabama.

"I just got physically stronger and more mature. I got better in cross-country. It made me quicker, made me faster, made be stronger. Adding that to the endurance I had, that made me a more complete runner."

By his junior year, he realized he wanted to continue devoting himself to distance running even after his competitive days were behind him.

In high school, Spangler would spend hours in Chatman's office, keeping tabs on Chatman's well-cultivated records to gauge himself against former Hernando runners.

Chatman produced a formal information packet for the program each season. As a senior, Spangler made one of his own.

That's when it first occurred to Chatman that Spangler could eventually become a coach.

"He was that kind of guy," Chatman said. "He's enthusiastic about the sport. You could see if he chose to do it, he'd be good."

Spangler wanted to coach in college, and upon graduating from Alabama immediately joined the cross-country and track staffs at Florida State.

Meanwhile, he worked toward a master's degree in sports administration.

"It was difficult at first," Spangler said. "I was so young. I was the same age as some of the athletes on the team. It was tough at first for the athletes to see you as a coach."

Now 37, he has no such issues, having built up his coaching resume. In 2002, he landed at Virginia Military Institute as assistant track and head cross-country coach.

During his stints with the Seminoles and Keydets, he had a hand in developing multiple All-Conference, All-American and NCAA-qualifying performers.

Spangler garnered Big South Women's Cross-Country Coach of the Year honors in 2009, when VMI was the conference runner-up, its best-ever showing.

That was one of two conference runner-up finishes during his tenure. The Keydet men received their first two regional rankings, in 2005 and 2009.

In track, his greatest achievement was coaching a 4x800-meter relay to the top time in the world (7:24.70) at the 2009 IC4A Indoor Championships.

"I expect a lot out of my athletes," Spangler said. "I expect them to make sacrifices to be the best they can. I'm very understanding, but I'll push you pretty hard.

"There's definitely some Coach Chatman in me. He very much has a no-nonsense type of mentality. There's a little bit of every coach I've been around, but there's more of Coach Chatman in me than anything else."

He held the VMI job until January, when he arrived at the University of Florida as an assistant coach in charge of distance and middle distance.

It was an opportunity he simply couldn't pass up, he said, and since he came onboard the Gators have won men's indoor and outdoor track and field national titles.

"Both distance programs have improved tremendously, so it's going extremely well. I'm very pleased," Spangler said. "Can we do better? Absolutely. But I'm happy with the way we've progressed in a short amount of time.

"I don't think I can do better than the University of Florida. To be able to compete for a national title every year, you can't do that many places."

These days, with so much focus on coaching, he doesn't do much running himself. He has only periodically partaken in some races after departing from Alabama.

But he has no desire to walk away from the sport any time soon.

"As long as I still have the passion to coach and recruit, I'll do this as long as I can," Spangler said. "I don't know anything else. I can't see myself doing anything other than coaching." (352) 544-5288

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