Yesterday was the Illinois Track and Cross County Coaches Association annual clinic on the second Saturday of the year at Oak Park and River Forest High School. As long as I have been coaching high school track, going back to 1998, I think, I have been attending this clinic.
It really kind of marks the beginning of the track season, for me and for many other coaches. Some years we have a week break before the season actually begins, a date mandated by the Illinois High School Association, the third Monday of January. That third Monday is the federal Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, and we usually have school off. So we always hold our first practice on the Tuesday following the King holiday.
This year I attended a clinic for track and field officials, conducted at the same site and date, instead of attending any of the coaches sessions. As an IHSA official, I am required to attend one of these education sessions every three years to be in good standing. Often I attend some of these sessions, and some coaching sessions, but I discovered last year that part-time attendance every year at the officials’ sessions does not get me credit for my required attendance every three years. So this year I was a full-time official at the clinic.
But after the clinic, they give us lunch. There I found my assistant track coaches, along with our Ignatius girls head coach Erin Luby, and we gathered to eat together. It was really our first coaches meeting. Steven Bugarin, my assistant in cross country for the last four years, will join me for his fifth year as a track coach, working with our distance runners. Ike Ofor, an Ignatius graduate from 2008 and currently a student studying exercise physiology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, will be the first former athlete that I coached to help with our team. Ofor was a state qualifying triple jumper four years while at on my team and a near miss for winning a medal at the State Track Meet in 2008, where he finished tenth. Ofor will work with our sprinters and jumpers. Finally, Patrick Boyle, who helped out a little bit with our team last spring because his two sons are team members, will help us out again as a pole vault coach.
There is a program at the lunch, with awards given out first, and then an Illinois Track and Cross Country Coaches Hall of Fame induction ceremony. My coaches and I were able to sneak in some bits of planning and other conversation—like what sessions they had attended—between the formal bits of the program.
As people finished their meal and as the program continued, the high school lunch room emptied out slowly. Lunch began at 1:15, and by 2:30 most of the audience seemed to be other Hall of Fame members or people attached to the new inductees. I know that I have never previously waited through the entire event.
But this time I did, and I was really glad that I did so. It struck me as a particularly august group of Hall of Fame inductees this year. For the first time, perhaps, I also felt a closer attachment to one of the inductees—Dick Beebe, who had been the head coach of the Fenwick boys team when I first began coaching at Saint Ignatius. He had been a serious Chicago Catholic League rival for several years when I began, but he had been a friendly rival who had welcomed me into the league coaching ranks with collegiality and advice when I asked questions as a new coach to the league. Beebe had been a long-time coach at Homewood Flossmoor High School, twenty-seven years, before moving to Fenwick, where he coached for a few more. Like the other inductees yesterday, he had coached twenty-something State Track medalists, twenty-five, his case, with three state champions in the jumps and hurdles. Quite significantly, in 1999 he was also selected as the Illinois High School Physics Teacher of the Year.
Beebe was composed and straightforward in his five minutes of acceptance remarks. He thanked his family, who were in attendance, especially his wife. His son, Nathan, as it happened, has followed him as the track coach at Homewood Flossmoor. He had special thanks to offer to two of his assistant coaches at Homewood Flossmoor, whose names I did not catch but who were also in attendance. They had coached together for twenty-seven years, he said, and like all good friends they could complete each others’ sentences while they were together. He acknowledged two of his assistants at Fenwick, John Polka and David Rill, along with his athletic directors at Homewood Flossmoor and Fenwick. He also gave a thank you, the biggest thank you, he said, to the athletes he had coached. His speech was by the book—like everything he did as a coach, it seems to me.
Of the other six inductees on Saturday, I would say that five were in much less control of their emotions. At least three of them seemed to cry at one point in their thank yous. It was clearly a special recognition for all of them and a special day. Their thank you speeches gave a little insight into their coaching styles, perhaps. Some were emotional and disjointed, with a funny story or two that seemed to have occurred to them on the spur of the moment. One of these coaches, Mike Brazier, who has been a coach at Proviso West High School for twenty-five years, promised to keep his speech short, and he even started a stop watch. He didn’t, and no one really seemed to mind. Brazier is perhaps an example of the kind of coach that we would all consider to be “characters.” I do not know him, but with a pony-tail, and an earring, I think, he is a coach that I remember seeing at track meets going back almost twenty years. Other speeches were more straightforward and organized—like Beebe’s. As I suggested, these are perhaps the by-the-book coaches, getting things done strictly, the way they are supposed to be done.
One thing was clear, listening to these successful coaches. There are probably many different ways to get the job done. It makes me think about what kind of coach I am, and how I could be better.
Those are just the right thoughts as we begin the five-month marathon track season that will end Memorial Day weekend.