The need for additional coaches for several Abilene High School and Middle School sports was a topic of discussion during the Dec. 9 Board of Education meeting.
In separate reports to the board, Will Burton, AHS assistant principal and athletic director, and Derek Berns, who holds the same position at AMS, both noted additional coaches are needed, particularly in track.
They also said the time has come to separate the high school and middle school cross country program into independent programs, each with a dedicated head coach.
Burton’s report also noted that additional assistant football coaches might be needed with the hiring of a new AHS head coach. Steve Simpson, who held that position for five years in Abilene as part of a 45-year coaching career, stepped down in November.
Board Vice-President Randy Gassman asked if the board was going to receive a formal proposal for additional coaches.
“From what you presented and the numbers (of student participants), it looks to me like we probably need them (additional coaches),” Gassman said. “I don’t think we would be hesitant to move forward with that.”
After discussion, Superintendent Greg Brown and Assistant Superintendent Chris Cooper said they would create a formal proposal that includes costs.
AHS track numbers have been up for several years, with the program being supervised by a head coach, four assistants and a fifth that has been added on a yearly basis.
Two coaches work with competitors doing throws; one works with pole vaulters; one for sprints, hurdles and relays; one for middle distance, distance and high jump and the head coach who handles long and triple jump while overseeing everything, Burton’s report stated.
While the coaches have gotten the job done, the situation is not optimal and Burton believes AHS track students could benefit by adding a coach who does vertical and horizontal jumps.
“This would allow the head coach to oversee and assist with every portion of the program during practices,” according to Burton’s report.
Burton and Berns both said the middle school track program also needs one or two additional coaches for supervision and safety.
The coaching staff at AMS currently consists of six coaches, but the squads have been consistently large over the past four years, ranging between 124 to 129 participants.
“With javelins, vaulters, jumpers, throwers, sprinters, hurdlers…safety and supervision has to be our number one priority,” Berns’ report noted.
Also, additional coaches can provide better instruction.
AMS has consistently had more than 30 kids who jump and more than 40 involved in relays.
“Instruction happens, but it could be much more efficient and better with more coaches,” the report stated. The same is true with other events.
Separating AHS and AMS into two separate cross country programs would entail hiring an AMS head cross country coach and an AMS assistant coach.
Under the current combined program, the AMS cross country team has been supervised by a coach who is paid like an assistant but has the responsibility of leading all middle school cross country runners.
The AMS squad has had 14 to 20 runners in the past three years, Berns’ report noted, but the main reason an additional coach is needed is due to the “gap in running ability and supervision issues for one coach.”
The differences in ability at the middle school level means runners are spread out all over the practice area making it difficult for one coach to supervise while still being able to coach all runners, the report stated.
Natural terrain training venue
One of the issues affecting Abilene harriers has been the lack of a natural terrain practice area with dirt, grass and hills. Abilene runners have had to run primarily in town, which has them mostly running city streets, which is not the situation during meets.
“We’re trying to get them off the streets and provide some true training facilities that meets how they run,” Burton told school board members.
The squad has run on dirt and hilly terrain north of I-70 near the Catholic cemetery and on 2400 Avenue (Rollercoaster road), but the increased traffic associated with the new 24/7 Travel Store just south of the Abilene I-70 exit has made getting to that area extremely dangerous.
“24/7 has been a game changer,” Burton told the board. “There’s much more traffic at the intersection where we would have to get by. To run true hills we would have to cross that area.”
Burton said he found a landowner who is willing to let the squad use his pasture; however, several issues need to be addressed, including site safety and providing shade. Temperatures in the early part of the cross country season which begins in August can soar into the 90s and higher.
“Our trainers are not convinced that using a bus (used to transport students to the possible location) as a shade block is enough,” Burton told the board.
Burton’s report indicated he was considering whether to use a temporary lean-to structure to provide shade. It would be constructed at the pasture site then disassembled when the season is over; however, Burton did not know if the landowner would be taxed for the structure once it was built.
Board Member Chris West asked if the squad uses the Abilene Great Life Golf Course for practice. Burton said the squad only practices there once a year and the Abilene Invitational Tournament is held there.
Board Member Jeff Bathurst said he has been approached in the past about allowing his pasture to be used for cross country practice, but he had concerns.
“I was worried about gopher holes and mounds. Would the landowner be willing for us to take a landscaping rake and smooth out the terrain a little bit?” Bathurst questioned.
Burton said the landowner is interested in about anything that would help out the student runners, but the person is concerned about liability.
Board President Kyle Becker asked Burton to continue looking into finding a good location for practices.
As for the new head football coach search, Burton’s report indicated that before the December board meeting there had been 17 applicants and he had heard from other interested people.
Applicants are interested in the size of the coaching staff. Currently, AHS has six coaches — one head and five assistants.
Burton’s report indicated that nearly every school AHS played this year had more coaches on staff. However, the six coaches in Abilene is consistent with school “immediately around us with enrollment” and within the league.
Although football numbers are down, the report indicated that even when the squad had 60 to 70 players a few years ago, AHS was getting by with six coaches. But it’s often difficult to find assistant football coaches.
A new wrinkle in the coaching situation has been technological changes that could require an assistant to coordinate the technology as the game is played.
Burton cautioned that hiring additional coaches for any sport does not necessarily mean athletes will become “instantly amazing” and said an additional coach can only make a difference if their skills are utilized appropriately.
Contact Kathy Hageman at firstname.lastname@example.org.