Coaching fraternity bonded by passion to teach
In a state-wide assault on high school campus across Minnesota this week, thousands of student athletes returned from their summer respite, eager to wage their skills and work ethic on another high school sports season.
It has, in other words, begun.
Those that arrived will sweat, bleed and, in some cases, lead.
They will cheer, and they will cry.
They will win, and they will lose.
And along the path they travel either together or against each other, their source of guidance will once again come from a fraternity unlike any of its kind.
The high school coaching community symbolizes much of what makes the high school sports setting such a spectacular part of the being a teenager.
As a group, they cater to parents, booster clubs, their families, their careers, the demands of their team and to that of their athletes.
They do it at a nominal fee that if one were to ever break it down to an hourly rate would resemble more of a pittance than a paycheck.
Yet they rarely complain of the tireless work. It is simply too rewarding to each.
“For a lot of us, we are in it for the love of the sport, and the fact that we are teamed up with some of the best kids that our society has to offer these days,” said Osseo boys and girls cross country coach John Rundquist. “We get a chance to watch these kids blossom, as both a person and an athlete. I know for me, that is the best part.”
He is far from alone. Of the three area coaches interviewed for this story, each mentioned the maturation process of the student athlete as one of the highlights they experience.
And building that relationship becomes the epitome of whey they do what they do.
“When I retire, that will be what I moss the most, because you can’t replace it,” said Robbinsdale Armstrong head basketball coach Greg Miller. “The relationships you have with your players is unlike anything else in your life.”
Wins and money measure little
The record books kept at Champlin Park High School would tell you Mike Korton has won plenty of football games in his 10 years at the helm of the program.
They will also let you know that in that time, the Rebels have won three conference championships, and played into the state semifinals during the 2004 season.
“But that is not what I use to measure my success,” said Korton. “I look at guys that have played for us that have gone on to become doctors or fathers. I look at my summers. I had 40 invitations to graduation parties this summer. I missed three. I get to go to their weddings and see them grow up and have families. Those are the reasons why I do this.”
It certainly isn’t the pay.
The average salary for coaching high school sports ranges from $4,000 to $8,000, depending the sport and school district.
The time commitment, however, stretches far beyond after school practices and game nights.
Fall athletes reported for practice Aug. 12, but other than two brief no-contact periods – the first of which was scheduled during the high school football all star game – the workload for Korton and his football coaching brethren has been in full tilt much of the summer.
Weight-lifting sessions, seven-on-seven passing leagues, classroom work, and leadership studies. The coaches have been in on all of it.
When asked how many hours per week he actually puts in during what is for many their allotted summer vacation time, his answer was a common one.
“If I figured that out I would probably quit,” Korton said. “I really would, so I don’t want to know.”
His daily schedule typically includes arriving around 6 a.m. so he can get some prep work in, before heading home to see his two young boys out the door and then returning for sessions that run well past the lunch hour.
The hectic pace forced the family to move from Lino Lakes after just one year on the job, and he took up residence directly across the street from Champlin Park High School.
“My wife took one look at me and said ‘this isn’t going to work,” Korton said. “So we literally moved right here next to the field.”
The cross country season at Osseo has a similarly demanding schedule for its athletes during the summer.
From a coaches perspective, however, the time they are asked to put in isn’t as bad.
Rundquist said the busiest portion of his offseason is in the spring, when he and the upcoming team captains organize the summer.
He will lead workouts if needed, but like many schools, the summer running program is cared for by others.
“My direct contact with the kids is not all that intense,” he said. “I delegate a lot and kind of let my captains run the show. I check in every so often, but for the most part, they take care of it.”
That allows Rundquist some family time at home, and a chance to handle the clerical part of his work, such as setting up the team’s invitational meet, and helping coordinate the alumni meet.
“I am home more, but I am working,” he said. “My work is just more behind the scenes in the summer.”
The same cannot be said for winter coaches such as Miller, whose basketball duties extend well into June and July.
“Some schools do even more than that,” Miller said. “For us, it is basically four days a week all of June and July.”
Miller arrives early and stays late. He can’t help himself.
“I kind of pride myself on being the last guy out of the gym,” he said.
Mind and body
While the workload can be strenuous, the tole it can take on the health of those in charge can be equally as difficult to deal with.
Worried over sleepless nights following losses, Miller said he spent time seeing a sports psychologist throughout last season.
He also followed the advice of his wife and joined a health club.
“I had more energy last year than I had in a long time, and I was in better place in managing my stress because of the time I spent with the psychologist,” Miller said. “You would think after doing this for so long, the stress would go away. It didn’t, but now I have some tools to help me deal with it.”
He also has what he called the opportunity of a lifetime to continue working with high school athletes.
The fraternity of coaches at this level is as varied as the halls of their schools, but the common bond they share together is unique.
The challenges return annually, as do they.
“The one thing is, for most of us, we all knew going in what this was going to be,” Miller said. “You don’t get rich, but it is not like poor us. This is a great job, one we are lucky to have.”
Added Korton: “The impact we can have on a daily basis, the direction we can help send these kids, that is what makes this so cool. It’s not the scoreboard on Friday night. It is all the other stuff that really matters that makes this such a special job.”
Contact Nick Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org