(cue the music)
I attended my last event as a track coach this last week. It was our year end banquet. And it got me thinking about my life with and my love for track and field.
My very first exposure to track and field came in 1967. I was a fifth grader at SMU (that’s how many of us lovingly referred to St. Matthews Elementary). One of my classmates, Bill Kellar, wanted to put together a track team to compete with the local public elementary schools. It turned out his dad was the head track coach for the local high school. Coach Elden Kellar, my one day coach, mentor and friend, would let us come and practice with the high school athletes. I have to tell you, as a 5th grader, that was pretty darn cool.
I had no idea which event I should be in, let alone all the events there were in track and field. Bill, being the only expert I knew in this sport, suggested I run the 660. Point of clarification, back in the day we ran in yards, ie: 660 yards. In today’s track lingo, think 600m. Little did I know it was the longest race in our meets.
They ran all the athletes from all the schools in one race. Two 6th graders from Mooberry Elementary got 1st and 2nd, and I got 3rd. The guy who won it came up to me and congratulated me on a nice race, and sincerely replied that he thought I might actually run a little faster next time if I didn’t run in my high top, green suede hush puppies. I did. In fact, next time I ran barefoot and got 2nd.
I was hooked. I fell in love with, now hear me, not running, but simply seeing how fast and how far I could run. I loved the competition the moment we stepped to the starting line and the friendship the minute we crossed the finish line. I loved the work/reward relationship. I love the individual and the team aspect to it. I love the lifelong friends I still have from those early days of track & field.
I know how much trouble one risks by sharing names, for I can in no way build a comprehensive list of all that I would like to thank. But as I sit here, there are names of teammates, coaches, athletes that jump into my mind and I feel compelled to share with you.
TEAMMATES: To Bill Kellar, for introducing me to a sport that I have loved for my life. To Slavkoski, who my first day of my freshman year of high school at Mt. Angel Seminary, invited me to join the cross country team, little did I know that he and I would be the complete team. Slav, I will always remember your enthusiasm and joy for running. My junior and senior years of high school were at Hillsboro High School, where I became a part of a new brotherhood of runners. Dave Babcock, for welcoming me to a new environment with such welcome heart. Dave Brandt—teaching me that you can juggle more than one sport at a time (only person I know that lettered in golf & track). Tom McDonnell—your having transferred to a new high school too, we were kindred spirits from the get-go. Gary Morlock—for always, always having an open home. Matt Holgate, for being full of surprises. Jim Ney—underclassmen can be brothers in arms. Bob Ulrich—for a kid from Illinois, you are not just a great runner, you are a great friend. Aaron Madsen—You are the only sophomore that I know that could do what you did.
To all my runningmates, named and unnamed. Thank you for sharing the miles, the battles, the competition, the blood, sweat and tears, the joy, the brotherhood, the friendships. I am in awe of you all and thank you for helping me on my journey.
COACHES AND COACHING:
In 1979, I was given the opportunity to be part of a coaching staff. I am forever grateful to Bill Chapman for allowing me to learn from him and begin my humble coaching career. I have been so blessed with many coaches to learn from and become friends with along the way. My forever mentor and first coach, Coach Elden Kellar. For more things than I can possibly list, but foremost, that it’s about more than running, it’s about people, thank you. Larry Binkerd, for teaching me about the longevity of coaching, for the kids, for the #Luv of a sport. Mark Ferris, for showing me “It ain’t rocket science – there is a direct relationship between hard work and reward”. Jim Smith, for giving me a second go around to coaching, who sees and believes in people before and after anyone else. Jen Kully, who was the best help as an assistant that I could ever ask for. Megan Jossy, for reminding me that track & field is for all ages. Will Drissen, for all the laughs and your never say die attitude. Frazier, for being one of the first coaches on the track and one of the last ones to leave. Adam Guenther, for being as enthusiastic and over the top about track than most anyone could be for track athletes, especially for a football coach. A couple of special ones, in that I was once their coach, and now have had the chance to coach with them, Dusty Harrah, Dennis Rice. And to Tom Millbrooke, who was a part of the coaching staff my senior year of high school and is today one of the most successful high school coaches I know, but more to me, has been a mentor and a friend, thank you!
To all the coaches, named and unnamed, I am forever grateful.
A FEW OF THE ATHLETES: Phil Alfieri—For teaching me the importance of an athlete believing in themselves. Lori Campbell—There IS joy in just running. Kelly Kaiser—Sometimes you do choose team over the individual event, but to this day, I would have loved to see you in the 800. The Rogers girls—making it look so easy and fun. Dave Erickson—I still say you could have been a heck of an 800 meter guy, but you were indeed a joy to watch at so many different events. Andy Hardy, for teaching me that you can take 3rd in an event at the district meet 3 years in a row, just missing out of going to state and still hold your head high. Kristen Mellum—the first female athlete I coached that went to State in my favorite event, the 800m. Hard work does have its rewards. I will never forget the shine in your eye after that 800 at the district meet. Nicole Jones—“Jonsie”, such a hard worker, on and off the track. Ksenina Andrukhiv (Everton)—reminding me of the fine line between fun and work, team and individual. Johnson gals—for your hard work, your dedication, your commitment and leadership to a sport when a new coach really needed it, thank you. Emily Ferris, you are maybe the hardest working, dedicated athlete I’ve ever coached and you taught me a world about overcoming a bad day at the track. Julia Dissen & Andrea Stratten—For proving to me you can wear sunglasses while you pole vault. Julia you were the first athlete I coached that set a school record. I remember when you first came out to pole vault and I was so worried you were just going to flat out hurt yourself. In 4 years, you willed and worked yourself into a top athtlete and young woman. I remember you clearing 10’6 as if it were yesterday. Kelsey Unger—to this day, you crack me up. You can be good, talented, committed to a sport, and have fun. Thank you for all the laughs. Ben Miramontes, “the dude”, talent will get you just so far, but your hard work paid off to being one of the all time best runners in our school history. Alex Douvris—balancing two sports with such a sense of ease and putting teammates above self. Aaron Rogers—for just your pure luv for running. Cori Bianchinni—One of the more mature young women I’ve met, juggling two sports, and really, for the sole benefit of the others. Kaytlin Fischer—you are so gifted and such a committed runner and person. You are 2nd school record holder I’ve had the pleasure of coaching. What a night and at my favorite meet, the Kellar. Hillary Harris—for helping me decide that one more year coaching would be a good thing, and so it was ~ you were my 3rd school record holder, breaking a 27 year old record in the 800m, and done with a smile as big as the sun.
The difficult part of this is where do I stop? I could talk about Sanelle, Knox, Hart, Barnett, Carmen, Wendall, Hughes, Brockway, Widdicombe, Misar, Chand… see what I mean. But stop I must. To all the athletes I ever had the privilege of sharing space with. I am forever indebted to you.
COMMENTARY, AND FAVORITE ONE-LINERS:
- I am continually amazed at the struggles that athletes have today, and still come out. Pay to play for example, but don’t get me started.
- I’ve had the true honor of being around some physically challenged athletes, who continually inspire us all.
- The joy on the face of an athlete who just set a personal record in an event, regardless of what place they got.
- The light in the eyes of an athlete that you can give a pair of shoes to who can’t afford them.
- Once in awhile, I’ve had a runner lose count in the 3000m and run one lap short, and I have also had a few go an extra lap. But they never did it twice.
- I’ve had athletes get to the starting line, start to pull off the sweats and realize they don’t have a uniform on.
- An athlete watching others get nervous and throw up their lunch before a race, turning to me…”Do I have to do that?”
- Luv the athlete who asks; “If I can find someone to take my place, can I NOT run the 4x400relay?” Why, are you hurt? “What if I say I just want to give the opportunity to someone else.”
- I put a runner in an event, they won the race, set a personal record and her comment was….”Coach, please don’t ever make me do that again?”
- The first time an athlete ran an all out 400 meter race, and came to me, put his arms around me to hold him up and said…”Coach, I can’t feel my ass!!!”
In our current media society today, it seems there is no shortage of stories about what’s wrong with our youth. If you ever want to see the opposite of those stories, I f you ever want to personally witness some of the best our youth has to offer today, go to a local track team and spend time with them. While I’m sure you can find it in most any sport, I can only share with you what I have had the honor of witnessing year in and year out. I am often in awe of what they do, what they talk about, the dreams they have, the effort they put in to becoming better athletes, to becoming better human beings. I know that I have become a better person by simply being around them.
Luv to you all.
AND…Whatever you do today…for heaven’s sake…have fun….Fred!