Paul Whitaker, 54, has been around the starting blocks — and long jump runways, shot put rings and javelin fields.
The Manteca resident knows the ins and outs of track and field from his decades of experience as a competitor, coach and meet official. Even so, he can’t help but be star struck when he sees some of the world’s best athletes up close and personal.
“What I love about the events and meets is I get front-row (seats) to the performances and chances to see a record get broken while I help measure,” said Whitaker, who worked the shot put and javelin events the past two days at the USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships held in Sacramento this week.
“I get to hang with competitors, mingle with them and get occasional photos with them.”
Whitaker reunited with former world champion decathlete Dan O’Brien, who used to compete in the now-defunct Modesto Relays. Whitaker has served as an official there. He also took pictures with star sprinter Allyson Felix and Kara Patterson, the American record holder for the javelin.
Whitaker is an Association-level USATF official and is working on progressing to the National level. Entry-level officials start out as “apprentices,” with the most experienced and knowledgeable being “masters.”
He has been an official and volunteer for USATF for 20 years. He volunteers his time to the Sacramento Sports Commission. Only national- and master-level officials get to work the big meets, but because of his local ties he was approved to work as an assistant official volunteer this week.
This isn’t Whitaker’s first go-around at a major meet; he previously officiated in the 2000 and 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials that also took place at Sacramento State. He mainly works collegiate meets, mostly at Cal and Sac State, and will officiate high school events on occasion. He was part of the staff for the California Interscholastic Federation State Track & Field Championships in 2006 and 07.
This year’s national championships offered Whitaker a new kind of experience. While all other events are taking place at Hornet Stadium, the men’s and women’s shot put ring was set up near the doorstep of the California State Capitol building. About 5,500 people were estimated to have filled the stands in downtown Sacramento.
“It was amazing and exciting to see so many people show up for this historical event — the first of its kind ,” Whitaker said. “Government officials were watching from the steps of the Capitol.”
Whitaker teaches at be.tech and the Adult Transition Program. He has been employed by the Manteca Unified School District since 2000 and has also served as assistant coach to four of its five comprehensive high schools. Whitaker currently coaches the jumpers at Manteca High.
His track career began at The Heritage School in Calistoga, where he was a hurdler and triple jumper. Whitaker continued to compete at Delta College in the 400-meter hurdles, javelin and long jump. His versatility allowed him to compete as a standout decathlete at Humboldt State, where he graduated from in 1983. He still competes to this day in the javelin, discus and high jump in the USATF Masters division.