Archive for Thursday, November 29, 2007

Eudora cross country coaches dedicated to sport, athletes

November 29, 2007

This was prompted, as corny as it may sound, by Thanksgiving and by an award presented to me at the recent end-of-season Eudora High School cross country banquet. The certificate I was handed read "Legacy Parent Award -- 6 Years."

You can imagine how surprised, and slightly embarrassed, I was as I walked to the front of the room. Considering the company I was in, athletes and coaches who could run a half marathon by breakfast and continue with their day as usual, I have always felt a bit humbled.

I remember thinking my oldest daughter Megan was crazy when she announced six years ago she wanted to join the high school cross country team. I grew up in Wamego, home of the state's two largest and most prestigious cross country meets, so I knew what was in store for her and felt quite sure she had no idea. She did indeed go out as a freshman and worked her way all the way to the state meet.

Then our second daughter Emily decided after completing volleyball her freshman year and attending summer cross country camp, which I thought she did merely to stay in shape, she too would go out for cross country. This time I didn't just think it, I said it, "Are you crazy? Wasn't that you who always asked Megan why she willingly does that to herself?" She laughed and joined the team.

At the season-ending state meet, Emily confided that she couldn't believe she had made it -- cross country was the hardest thing she had ever done. Two seasons later, she would find herself fighting to do it again.

Cross country does not benefit from the turnout of half the town at meets and scores of athletes hoping to make the team. There are no time outs to discuss strategy with coaches or teammates when a race is going badly or days off because of inclement weather. Instead, it is athlete against the terrain, gutting it out and sticking to a race plan, even if that plan seems to be failing, with numbers sometimes too few to even be considered a team, and training in the worst conditions.

The answer to why athletes would put themselves through the sport's demands becomes apparent when you watch and listen to their coaches. Paul Boone and Dan Kuhlman make sweating in triple-digit temperatures in unbearable humidity with aching and tired muscles so much fun athletes get hooked by summer's end. They supply an infinite amount of time, patience, encouragement and praise to athletes as they mature and grow skilled and accomplished. They constantly look for running information and training techniques to inspire and give their athletes an edge.

Regardless of their abilities, all Eudora runners are valued and given the confidence to tap into strengths of both mind and body they were unaware they possessed.

Coach Boone and Coach Kuhlman's love is also in their personal lives as well. They each participate in races, many times with current athletes as well as those previously coached. The coach-athlete bond does not end at graduation. Anyone who continues to run has a permanent sounding board in their "old" high school coaches.

Megan and Brittney Graff have gone on to run cross country and track at Pittsburg State University, and Cody Burns is at Emporia State University. Both coaches keep in touch with them as they continue their careers. I am surprised at how quickly Megan calls both coaches following races that she is particularly proud of. They are eager to share her success as well as work her through the not-so-great races.

I'm amazed how Coach Kuhlman, whose daughter Maggie runs for Perry-Lecompton High School, can be both a Kaw and a Cardinal when the teams compete at the same event, and misses his daughter's races when schedules conflict. The coaches continually thank the parents, grandparents and any other fan present for the support of "their" kids and for tending to the simplest of details like team dinners, meet snacks and drinks.

As mentioned, my first experience with Eudora cross country was six years ago. Megan competed "unattached" her freshman year, meaning Eudora did not have the required five runners to be a team. Eudora has had a full team each year since. What a sight it was as we watched races this year when six, seven or sometimes eight Cardinals toed the line at the start of men and women's races. At some meets Eudora even had competitors in varsity and the junior varsity races, which is usually found only in the most elite programs. Eudora's younger runners were able to build confidence and skill in junior varsity races before being thrown into the varsity competitions with upperclassmen and more experienced runners, which is a luxury found in other sports.

Under Coach Boone and Coach Kuhlman's leadership, a difficult, yet rewarding, sport flourishes. The Eudora Cross Country Team continues to place among the top three in both league and regional competitions that include the top two teams in the state. Eudora has been represented at the state meet for six consecutive years by some of the most elite runners in the state, with some of those runners obtaining college scholarships.

Coach Boone has had the honor of being named Coach of the Year. I'm sure if the honor could be given to an assistant coach, Coach Kuhlman would hold that title as well.

More important than any medal, certificate, plaque, news article or trophy, is the impact these two coaches have had on countless youth. Their unwavering encouragement, faith and dedication to these kids supersede any accolade that is enjoyed.

Sports require a huge time and personal commitment for high school athletes, with much of this time spent away from families. Throughout the evening of that banquet, as well as over the past six years, it is not difficult to notice the athlete-coach rapport. A genuine respect and admiration was evident as the season's trials and highlights were recounted.

I'm fortunate two of my children experienced the influence of these two dedicated men. I speak for myself but I am sure I echo the thoughts of many who feel thankful their child/children had the privilege of being coached by two of the finest coaches around.

Talk about a legacy. Coach Boone and Coach Kuhlman -- you are a class act. Thanks for everything.

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