Two Marion High School track and field coaches have earned recognition as Assistant Coaches of the Year from the Kansas Cross Country Track and Field Coaches Association.
Rex Wilson and Jerry Smith have more than a combined 90 years of track and field coaching experience. Both were recognized for their contributions in their respective fields at the annual KCCTFCA banquet in Junction City Jan. 11.
?They?re just great ambassadors for the sport,? Marion head track coach Grant Thierolf said of the pair. ?We?re just thrilled. We?ve got, I think, the best coaching staff in the state.?
Wilson, who was honored as throws coach of the year, has been part of the track and field program at Marion since 1964.
In his tenure at Marion, Wilson has served as both a head and assistant track and field coach.
After passing the head-coaching baton, Wilson began coaching throwers. He coached under Smith and now assists Thierolf.
One highlight of Wilson?s was coaching a five-time state champion.
?When I first came here, I had a freshman named Gary Melcher, and I started working with him as a freshman,? Wilson said. ?He ended up being a five-time state champion in the throws.
?He still holds the shot put record and javelin record.?
Melcher took first place at state in both discus and shot put in 1968 with distances of 161 feet, 6 inches and 54-11.25, respectively. He earned three first place medals at state the following year, in discus (161), javelin (214-2) and shot put (55-11.75).
Wilson said he has coached a number of state champions over the years. He finds fulfillment in helping athletes reach their potential.
?The biggest thrill in coaching is when you are coaching athletes that want to be as good as you want them to be,? Wilson said. ?When you get athletes?and I?ve had a lot of them, and I?ve got some good ones right now?that want to be good, it?s a pleasure to go to practice every night.?
For Wilson, coaching is about more than winning championships.
?These other things are fine, all the state placers and league winners and all this,? he said. ?That?s fine, but when you get to be my age, I look at the bigger picture.
?When you get the opportunity to work with these athletes that want to be good, it?s just a pleasure. That?s the reason I keep doing it.?
Regarding the KCCTFCA throws coach of the year award, Wilson said:
?I appreciate it. It?s not a life-changing kind of thing. It?s just some recognition for hard work.?
Smith, who was honored as the KCCTFCA pole vault coach of the year, started coaching track and field in 1974 and came to Marion in 1985.
Like Wilson, Smith has served as head track coach at Marion. Smith accepted the head-coaching job in 1986, a position he held until the 1999-2000 season when Thierolf took the reins. In addition to coaching the pole vault, Smith has coached sprints and hurdles.
?After I kind of retired from the head coaching job, they asked me to stay on just to coach the pole vaulters,? Smith said. ?That was just great with me because that?s my first love anyway.?
Smith said there are many highlights from his tenure as a pole vault coach.
?Every time a kid PRs or sets a school record, you get that excited cheer,? he said. ?Justin Hett was my one lone state (pole vault) championship. I?ve had two or three that?s been second and third.?
In 2000, Hett claimed the gold medal at state with a vault of 14 feet.
?I?ve had kids at the state track meet every year now, I think, for about the last 20 years,? Smith said. ?I?ve had at least one, sometimes as many as four. I try to get at least one every year.?
Smith said he enjoys working with athletes who have a desire to work hard.
?When you coach, you get kids that want to be there,? he said. ?Sometimes when you?re teaching in the classroom, you have to put up with the kids that don?t want to be there, and in athletics, (if) they don?t want to work, they?re not going to be there, so you get to work with kids that want to be there, and they?re always energetic, and they?re always wanting to do something and that just is fun. It really is.?
Regarding the KCCTFCA award, Smith said: ?(It?s a) real honor for me. Rex probably has all kinds of honors, but this is one of the first ones I?ve ever gotten as a coach, and so I?m really happy about it.?
Thierolf said the awards Wilson and Smith received speak well for the track and field program at Marion.
?It?s a great honor and one well-deserved,? he said. ?We?ve had three of our coaches recognized as assistant coaches of the year.
?Deanna (Thierolf) was (recognized) last year in the jumps and now Rex and Jerry, so that speaks volumes for what we try to do.?
For Thierolf, the track experience at Marion is enjoyable for coaches and athletes alike.
?It?s just fun to coach,? he said. ?The kids enjoy it every day. Oftentimes, you lose juniors and seniors because track?s a lot of work, and we don?t lose many kids. If they come out as freshmen, they typically come out as seniors just because I think they enjoy working with the coaches.
?I can?t say enough good things about them. They?ve been great to our kids and great to this community.?