This week is our fourth installation of our five-part feature highlighting finalists for the 2012 Inspiring Coach of the Year award. These coaches were selected after reviewing more than 1,300 nominations for high school track and/or cross-country coaches who inspire their athletes every day.
To view all 25 finalists and to pick your favorite, Vote at facebook.com/brooksrunning. On September 2, 2012, Brooks will select the 2012 Inspiring Coach of the Year, so get your vote in today!
Coach Marcus Jackson
Sheffield High School
What is your favorite coaching moment (or moments)? This past May I had an opportunity to help Sheffield High School bring home its first state championship in any sport. That is a big deal because the school produces such great athletes. In 2011, we came in fourth place in the state and had first place finishes in the high jump and 4×4 relay. What was special about our 2012 championship was the fact that we only took 8 athletes into 11 events and we did not have any first place finishes but we pulled together enough points for a total team victory.
Did you have a coach that inspired you in high school? My coach in high school inspired me to coach. He was a great runner and he had all the record books to prove it, but he never broke anything down to us. I knew I wanted to coach one day and give 100% to my athletes and not just throw my accomplishments in their face.
What is your favorite race to run or watch? My favorite event to watch is the 4×4 relay especially if the outcome of this final race will determine the meet winner.
Coach Mark Buesing
Libertyville High School
What is your favorite race to either watch or run? Any race, any distance, to watch or run. The excitement of a big high school cross country meet is hard to match. When the spectators are running back and forth on a course and there’s a tight pack at the front with 1200 meters to go – that’s pretty exciting.
Trail races are my favorite to run. I did a 50k trail race over some pretty spectacular terrain. A 30k in the Catskills almost killed me, but I still think about going back. The 20 stream crossings in the Tecumseh trail marathon are still fresh in my memory and the 22-miler around Lake Geneva is one of the most unique runs anywhere in the country.
What is your favorite coaching moment (or moments)? Few of my favorite coaching moments involve running … directly. Is that bad?
Among my favorite coaching moments are the times when a student-athlete tells me upon graduating that they made it all the way through high school “clean,” i.e., no alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs. One of guys, now a junior in college, wrote me to say thanks for instilling in him the values of living a healthy lifestyle. He wrote that he has seen many of his peers get involved in drugs and alcohol in college, and attributes his own success, both academically and athletically, to living clean.
Another favorite moment comes during our fundraiser. Each year the team gives half of the money raised to a charity the team chooses. Over the past seven years the team has donated $14,000 to charities such as The Semper Fi Fund, Habitat for Humanity, and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Watching the athletes present those checks is a highlight.
My most favorite moments are witnessing the progression of boys into men of character. Sometimes it happens all at once, but most often it happens over a period of years. Running, especially distance running, is a terrific metaphor for life’s challenges. Running serves as a crucible for teaching the virtues of commitment, honor, courage, endurance, and grit. When the athletes figure out that running is not just about running, I know I’ve done my job.
Did you run track/XC in High School or college? I ran my first road race, the Steamboat 4-miler in 1976 at age 10, but in high school I was a two-time state qualifier in swimming. In college I competed in triathlons, finishing 20th in the nation at the Collegiate Championships. I was also a competitive cyclist for 10 years; ranked as high as 18th in the nation. I competed in the 1992 Olympic Cycling Trials, resided at the Olympic Training center in Colorado Springs, was a five-time Illinois state champion, and was twice named Illinois Rider of the Year. After marrying Tara (Roy), a collegiate cross country All-American, I rediscovered running and have competed at every distance over a mile including twelve marathons and one ultra-marathon.
Coach Mark Shafer
Chardon High School
Did you have a coach that inspired you in high school? Yes. Jim Haase was the Director of Community Services that ran a track club for kids 7-14 and was an assistant track coach when I was in the 10th grade. I was one of 3-4 athletes that he would have assist him with the track club. I caught the running bug from him after 10th grade when he would take us out into the country for time runs. He would stop and give us splits at each mile and then would have orange juice and something to eat afterwards – relatively simple stuff but, with his encouraging words, enough to get the fire going inside.
He also precipitated major changes in the program at Waverly High School. He worked behind the scenes to change/upgrade the coaching staff; though, my 10th grade year was the only year he coached track. These changes enabled the team to go from never winning even a dual meet to finishing tied for 10th at the Class A state meet in track and field the last year I coached in 1986.
He also took over the cross-country program for many years after I graduated. I think the program was 4-65 in dual meets within the league prior to his tenure. Within 4 years he had an individual state champion and a team that tied for 5th at the state meet.
He wasn’t a science/research oriented guy. He was about encouraging kids. He invested his life into his athletes.
What is your favorite coaching moment (or moments)? The last year I coached in Michigan (1986), our head coach was in the hospital with his wife. We were facing the prior year’s Class A state championship team (Lansing Everett) in a dual meet – when dual meets still mattered! They were going to beat us in the 4×400, but if we could sweep the 3200 we would win the meet. Our 3rd best runner in the race had never broken 12:00. He was a skinny kid that had never run track before. I gave him the situation – you finish 3rd and we win the meet. I don’t remember the exact time anymore, but he ran well under 11:00 to finish 3rd. I get emotional now even thinking about it. One of the best parts of being a coach, is seeing kids rise to a challenge and beat their own expectations of themselves. I’m not sure there’s anything more empowering for a kid.
The first year I coached track at Chardon Middle School, there was a kid who hadn’t run a PR in the mile since the 4th grade. After one meet he was in tears because he couldn’t beat his old time. I don’t remember all that transpired but the very next meet, I’m in tears yelling like crazy as this 7th grader is sprinting down the homestretch to crush that old PR and run under 6:00 for the very first time.
The second year I coached at Chardon High School, I had a pretty talented freshman. Two-thirds of the way through the season, he ran under 17:00 on a muddy, hilly course to finish 2nd overall in the large school varsity race. On the way home on the bus, he was sitting just behind me and I could see he was in tears. I asked him why he was upset. His response? “I just want to win.” That kid went on to win state championships in Cross-Country and the 3200m in track, to be a Footlocker Finalist, to run the World Junior Cross-Country Championships for the USA, and to be a two time NCAA Div I All-American in cross-country.
Did you run track/XC in High School? I ran the 400m up to the 3200m in track from 9th grade to 11th grade at Waverly High School near Lansing, MI. My high school program was terrible at the time and I decided to train for a 25k race the spring of my senior year instead of running track. The mileage I did in preparation for that is the only reason I was able to walk-on and run in college.
I didn’t start running cross-country until my junior year. I was a 3rd string football player until then. I didn’t have a ton of success but was in the top 3 on the team my first year and was MVP my last year. I would medal in most invitationals but just missed qualifying for the state meet my senior year.
Coach Melissa Thomas
Manchester Valley High School
What is your favorite coaching moment (or moments)? When we won our regional title in 2010. I just remember standing near the 3-mile mark counting girls and trying to add the score myself and I kept thinking, “I think we won! I think we won!” It seemed to take an amazingly long time to get the results! Seeing the girls hold that plaque was an amazing experience because I knew that they realized that all of my talk wasn’t just talk – they were good and they were the best.
I also love the not-so-winning moments too. XC is a great sport because you can see improvement in runners in every race. Each person can explore their personal goals and achieve as an individual as well as a team. I remember the first time we made it to States and each girl was feeling really nervous and I was about to throw up, but I kept playing it off like it was a normal race day. When we got to the start line, they were so sad that it was their last race! That is love of running and the team. Almost every member of the team presented a personal best that day because they ran for each other!
I LOVED this last season of XC because the team came together so quickly and became a very cohesive and supportive unit. It is awesome building a program and watching the runners take leadership roles in nurturing the younger members and finding ways to have fun while working hard. I love when we are playing sprinting games and singing wild jingles that I make up to make it “seem” fun, although the workout is hard. It is easier to run a hard workout if you laugh a little when you catch your breath!
Did you have a coach that inspired you in high school? My volleyball coach – Mr. Denny Cruse was a great inspiration because he always expected the best. Even when we lost a very strong group of seniors and were rebuilding the team, coach didn’t see that as a reason to be mediocre.
What is your favorite race to either watch or run? My favorite race in season is The Smithsburg Invite. It is a hilly course with loops so that I can see most of the race and most of my runners multiple times. I also like the Olympic-style finish on the track. It adds to the intensity.
As for running, my favorite race thus far has been running the Johnstown Half Marathon. I grew up in Johnstown and was not a distance runner when I left town 13 years ago. When I go home, I run, but I don’t think my family and friends really understood where I was as a runner. It was great to go home and run for the hometown crowd on streets that I knew. That race is currently my PR in a half. I feel that my team had a lot to do with that. When I enter a season, I always tell my team what I am training for and I do workouts with them to help me improve. They cheered me on every day and we talked about my race just as we evaluated their races, and it helped me to really go into that race mentally and physically prepared. It was cool because it made me feel like a runner on the team too! I love this team!
Coach Mike Buslepp
Romeo High School
Did you run track/XC in college? I ran XC in college for Wayne State University in Detroit, MI an NCAA Division II school under Coach Rick Cummins. I wasn’t the most highly recruited athlete coming out of high school with only producing a best time of 16:17 in the 5k (Mostly downhill flat course), but once visiting the Wayne State campus I was sold. Giving college running a shot ended up being the best decision of my life as it provided me an opportunity to earn a substantial running scholarship, and continue in the sport of running. I competed at Wayne State with some amazing athletes and made some lifelong friends. I was a four year contributor to the program, earning All Conference Honors, which ultimately lead to our XC team’s first GLIAC Championship in 2001, and an 11th (2001) and 6th (2003) place finish in the nation! J We didn’t have a track team at the time, but our XC team did run as unattached athletes in many indoor/outdoor track competitions. My best events were the 5k, 8k, and 10k.
Did you have a coach that inspired you in high school? I had plenty of coaches who inspired me in high school, and really it would be unfair to name just one.
Ned Brazelton was the cross country coach at Warren Cousino High School for over 20 years, and he also coached the middle school track team. “Braz” as we called him, introduced me to the sport of running, and took a chance on a kid that thought he was the next Ken Griffey Jr. in baseball. Braz was a very hard-nosed coach, who really knew how to motivate his athletes. I remember the first race I ran I took dead last, and ran over 29 minutes for a 5k. Braz knew that I had potential, he told me that I had to break 22 minutes in the next race or he wouldn’t allow me to run in the next invitational. I didn’t quit, and stuck with it turning that 29 minute race into a sub 22 minute race. I only had the opportunity to run for Braz for one year as he retired after my freshman year.
Tom Zarzycki took over the next year, and really made a difference in making me understand how much work had to be put into this sport in order to become a better runner. Zar also made running fun! He was very good at making sure we never ran in the same places every day, so very rarely did things get boring. Additionally, Zar implemented training plans that motivated me to run all year, which helped me make drastic improvements over my final three years running taking me from an 18:30 runner to a 16:17 runner.
Another coach who deserves recognition would be Kevin Hanson, owner of the Hanson’s Running shops. He helps to promote the sport of running in the Macomb County Area. As a result, I had and still have avenues to continue running whether it is through road races, buying appropriate shoes/apparel, and participating in running camps. My sophomore year Zar took our team to the Hanson’s Running camp in Traverse City, Michigan. It was at this camp where I turned the corner in my running career, and really dedicated myself to the sport. Whether it was the informational speeches, watching a Pre Fontaine video, or gutting out a 9 miler when my longest previous run was 5, the camp really helped me understand what it takes to become a better runner.
What is your favorite coaching moment (or moments)? Wow! In no way could I list one, but I will limit this to my top 6 in no particular order.
1) When our girl’s cross country team won our first Macomb County Championship and qualified for the state meet in 2009. This was the first moment where I felt our program turned the corner, and believed that good things could happen when you work hard as a team.
2) The Romeo boy’s XC team winning our regional championship for the first time in the school’s history and qualifying for the state meet in 2011.
3) The Romeo Boy’s Track team earning Macomb County Team of the Year 3 years in a row.
4) Watching my first two all-staters: Nathan Saliga 400 meter state champion- 48.84 (2009), and Shelby Jackson 4th in the state cross country 17:44 (2011).
5) Watching an athlete set a PR for the first time. Whether it is a kid breaking 30 minutes for the first time or 16:00 minutes, I always feel an immense of pride seeing my athletes improve and to share the pride they have in themselves when they realize their hard work is worth it. It never gets old to see the moment where this clicks for an athlete.
6) Watching several athletes come back from potential season/career ending injuries.
Read all the finalists’ stories on Brooks’ Facebook page and vote on your favorite. The community’s votes will be one of the factors we use to choose our 2012 Most Inspiring Coach. The winner will be announced this fall, so stay tuned!