This is the down time for me in December; time to focus on the family, time to connect with alumni active in track and field in college and alumni no longer competing who are still a part of my life.
When you coach athletes and break them down physically and then build them up, you look into their souls and they into you. The coach-athlete relationship is unique in that you are not their parent and you are not their friend, yet you will find yourself being both parent and friend at times.
As I opened my Christmas cards, I found a note and photo of Tricia (Braun) Fox and her four beautiful daughters. I am touched that she remembers to keep me informed of her family and how they are doing. It was 1979 when she first ran in the state meet.
I spent Sunday praying with another athlete over his dying father at the hospital. I was so impressed with his maturity and composure on a decision he would soon have to make. He pointed to his wife’s stomach, also a former runner who is pregnant and said, “See what you get when you get somebody out for track.”
The one thing the young coaches should know is that your athletes become family whether you know it or not. They will remember how they feel about the sport more than what they do or did.
I have been coaching at Mt. Vernon since 1975 in cross country and track and field. The changes in our school have been so great since I began, as has my perspective. Lest I sound arrogant, let me assure you I have lost regularly to lesser opponents and rookie coaches, but I have had my share of success via the great genetics in our community.
Our school has gone from a 2A/3A size to a 4A in football. Our rivals were the White River Conference, and now the large-school Hoosier Heritage Conference. We drove cars to meets in ’75, then took a bus in the ’80s/’90s and now I drive the bus. I had no assistants in the ’70s. In the ’80s, I had Steve Redden, who was a distance-coach genius. We didn’t always agree, but we always put the kids first and produced two All- Americans, nearly won the cross country state in multiple tries, produced a state champion in cross country in Jeff Wheeler, and a set a national record with Mike Mundy in the Freshman 1600 (4:14+) that stood for 19 years.
I now have three great assistants in Joel Harsin, Nate Larson and Tim Leonard, who is also the head girls track and field coach. It is hard to lose with their presence, and I treasure my relationship with Leonard as we have been through the battles while raising our children. He has forgotten more about track than I know.
I am amazed at the things the athletes have these days, especially the phones. My first team had nine phone numbers and eight addresses; in 2013 it will be nearly 200 phone numbers and counting,; addresses and emails — over 350. I am convinced their family dogs have phones. Don’t even think about throwing a gym bag today — tablets, computers, games or whatever else is in there make the bags of today very expensive.
Newspaper coverage has changed. In the ’70s the Fortville Tribune covered MV and, later, the Daily Reporter. Interestingly, today the reporters will make excuses for the teams. They will say so and so was hurt, or so and so was missing. Go read the ’70s and ’80s — you lost, you lost, and if you were bad they would say you were bad. Reporters would write about what they thought you were thinking whether you thought it or not. Being politically correct was not the case, and I can’t say I am much different than that today.
These reporters today understand people; they are probably way too kind to a four-school county. Go check the coverage in most counties, you won’t find any better than here; it probably spoils our athletes.
As I approach the 2013 season, I will be hard at work re-inventing myself. I don’t want my athletes to take me or the sport for granted, nor I them. I love coaching the lessons of Moses, David, and Jesus from the Bible. It is these lessons my former athletes seem to remember.
You just can’t imagine how rewarding it is to go to meets and see your former athletes doing a great job at other schools over the last 38 years. Whether it be the head track and field coaches at Brownsburg, Bret Neylon, Nathan Warnecke at Fishers, Pat Mallory at Knightstown, Nick Clarkson at Lapel or a host of assistants at one time or another at Yorktown, New Palestine, Eastern Hancock, Greenfield Middle School, Fishers, Mt. Vernon and Noblesville, to name a few. My favorite last fall was my youngest son, Jordan, at Doe Creek Middle School in cross country.
Does God have a sense of humor or what? I am blessed to have such an extended coaching family figuratively and literally, but there are other intangibles that make this sport rewarding. Seeing a former athlete of yours on the Eastern Hancock, New Palestine and Mt. Vernon School Boards says a lot. At one time, 19 percent of all the school board members were former athletes in this county and it has been great watching them handle themselves and making good decisions. Sometimes you win in ways you never knew.
— Coach Kendall
Editor’s note: Coach’s Perspective is a monthly series that offers a glimpse into the lives and challenges of Hancock County’s high school sports coaches. To contact Bruce Kendall regarding this month’s column, email firstname.lastname@example.org.