Great leaders produce great results, no matter what their profession. Character, sacrifice and a drive to succeed fuel all who are called to lead. Auburn University head track and field coach, and former NJCAA All-American, Ralph Spry is no different.
Spry, now entering his 12th season as head coach of the Tigers has developed a top-tier program on the Plains and looks to continued dominance in the SEC and NCAA.
His foundation of success traces back to Severn, Maryland, where he grew up as the son of an U.S. Army father. He excelled in baseball, basketball and football, but it was not until pressure from his peers did he venture into track and field.
"I got to the 10th grade in high school and all my buddies were running track," explained Spry. "They convinced me to come out for the team and I did. The rest, as they say, is history."
After winning two Maryland state titles in the long jump, he traveled south to Odessa College in Texas for his first year of collegiate competition. He earned NJCAA All-America honors in the spring of 1979 by placing sixth in the long jump (24-2 ½). He then returned home to Region 20 of the NJCAA for his second year and competed for Anne Arundel Community College (Md.) where he matured into one of the best jumpers in the country.
"They (Anne Arundel) had a good track program at the time," he added, "and I had some friends from high school that were competing on the team as well. We had a good little group of guys from Maryland on the team. Overall it was a great experience."
As a Pioneer he won four NJCAA Championships: 1980 indoor and outdoor triple jump (49-1 and 50-5 ½), 1981 indoor triple jump (49-7 ¾) and 1981 indoor long jump (25-3 ½). He left the NJCAA as an eight-time All-American and was inducted into the NJCAA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1992.
Spry successfully transferred to the University of Mississippi, where he again was a standout on the track and field team. He made his mark at Ole Miss by being the first Rebel to do many things. He was the first Ole Miss track and field athlete to win an SEC title with his 1983 SEC Long Jump Championship. He was also the first to garner All-America honors and first to win an NCAA title with his '83 NCAA Outdoor Long Jump Championship.
Also in '83, Spry ranked fifth in the Unites States and seventh in the world in the long jump by Track and Field News. In September of 2003 he was inducted into the University of Mississippi Athletics Hall of Fame.
While at Ole Miss he was active in the R.O.T.C. and accepted a commission to the U.S. Army after graduation. He entered the Army as a second lieutenant.
While an officer in the Army, he continued his athletic career by competing for the All-Army track and field team. He was a member and coach of the All-Army squad that won an Armed Forces Championship. Individually, Spry won five Inter-service long jump titles and in 1986 was the World Military Long Jump Champion.
Spry served in active duty for eight years, leaving in 1992 after serving as a captain and company commander in the 9th Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division. He immediately went into coaching and was hired as an assistant with the University of Florida track and field team in '92 and two years later led seven Gator athletes to 10 All-America honors and eight to All-SEC accolades.
In 1997, Spry was asked to take control of the track and field program at Auburn University. Now entering his 12th season, Spry is regarded as one of the best track and field coaches not only in the SEC, but in the NCAA. In 2006, he led his women's program to their first-ever NCAA Track and Field Championship, taking the '06 NCAA Outdoor title. He was named 2006 Women's Track and Field National Coach of the Year by the US Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.