In 1990, Dennis Boldt – then teaching at Brown Mackie College in Salina after graduating college in 1989 – received a job offer to teach business education at Hillsboro High School. Attached to the job offer, though, was the stipulation that Boldt would also fill three coaching roles: assistant football, assistant basketball, and head track and field. Boldt signed his contract for the 1990-91 school year and until this year, has continued in all four capacities.
Before the 2021-22 school year began, Boldt announced his intention to retire from coaching track and field after 30 seasons in order to have the ability to watch his youngest son play baseball for HHS – games are scheduled on many of the same days as track meets – as well as watch his oldest son compete in track and field at Friends University.
“It was just time for me to take that time and spend a little bit more emphasis on the family,” Boldt said. “I still enjoy it. I think we’ve left a great program – we’ve got returning state champions and qualifiers – it’s in a good place and I have great confidence that the staff who is continuing will do a great job because we’ve got great kids. It all goes back to the kids.”
During his coaching tenure Boldt received coaching accolades including being named the 2004 National Boys Outdoor Track Coach of the Year. He coached state championship boys teams in 1991, 2001 and 2004, and state championship girls teams in 2005 and 2007. And yet, he said, it’s the relationships he’s developed that matter most.
“I’ll remember very few races as compared to emotions with kids,” he said. “You know, whether it be talking on the bus or getting invited to a wedding or things like that. That’s what is really valuable.”
The start of an era
When Boldt was hired as head track and field coach, he was also tasked with the inaugural implementation of the district’s newly combined middle school and high school program. For each of the seasons, Boldt organized meet entries for each athlete in grades 7-12. With athletes competing in anywhere from one specialized event to four events per meet, Boldt said sometimes – especially before the advent of online entry forms – he would spend the majority of weekends preparing for upcoming meets.
“I didn’t know any different, that’s the thing,” he said. “I was a young coach, I’m enthusiastic, I’m just excited to be there and I’ll tell you, I feed off the energy of these kids.”
Without knowing what to expect from coaching a combined program, and being one of the first in the area to combine, Boldt set to work developing the ins and outs of coaching a wide-range of athletes – beginning athletes without any track experience all the way to seasoned state-level competitors.
A former track athlete himself, Boldt quickly learned as a coach how rewarding it is to watch athletes find success in their events.
“You see a seventh-grade athlete who is brand-new at something and they have some success, it’s just as exciting as a personal best in high school,” he said. “It really is and the kids have a lot of fun.”
Even though the spring season is often busy for student-athletes and the district has added additional spring sports options for students to participate in, the 7-12 track and field program has maintained its momentum.
“This new program (7-12 combined) was successful due to the many great assistant coaches and athletic directors over the years who also made it their priority to help the athletes be successful,” Boldt said.
Changes in the sport
With the explosion of technological advances during Boldt’s coaching career, he saw firsthand the impact the developments made on the sport.
Though as a computer teacher he always typed meet entries, recent availability of software gave Boldt the capability to make changes at the track from his phone.
“Even at the beginning of most of the recent years, it would probably take four to five hours to get the girls and boys in the high school set for that first meet because you want to make sure their entry times are accurate,” Boldt said. “Now you go online and you can literally change an entry in practice on your phone and you don’t have to go back.”
Scratch meetings on the day of a meet go much faster, Boldt said, because changes can be made up until the day of the meet as opposed to mailing in entries a week ahead of time. With the advent of social media, Boldt also has noticed that athletes from different schools tend to know each other better and are sometimes even aware of event scratches before the scratch meetings just from communicating online.
With so much information available to athletes and coaches on the internet, the awareness of health and nutrition has increased over the years Boldt has coached.
“You may not think about it, but you know when you’re trying to learn how to throw the discus or to long jump, these kids can go watch [videos online] whereas before, kids come out for track and they’ve never seen a track meet or the event, and now they’ll go online and everything from running technique to throwing and vaulting,” he said. “Just the motivational things – seeing the world’s best athletes vault or throw the discus or run the hurdles – that’s really helped the sport of track and field in my opinion.”
Since 1991, the sport has also experienced changes at the finish line, moving from hand-held timers to a combination of hand-held timers and automatic timers, to fully automated timing systems. The results took longer at first because they were all handwritten but now, as soon as the events are over at the state track meet, results are available online.
“I saw a lot of difference in the way meet management has happened,” Boldt said. “I do miss the timers at the end because now you go to high school and even college meets and a lot of times the kids run through and there’s just nobody there. I do miss the days of having people at the finish line. There was a real camaraderie between those people who were the finish line places.”
Despite the changes in technology and meet management, the Hillsboro program’s success never seemed to wane. Under Boldt’s leadership, high school athletes qualified for the state track meet each year except for one season in the mid-90s.
“I remember we went to an extremely tough regional down in Cheney and that was the only year we didn’t qualify anybody,” Boldt said. “But other than that, we’ve had multiple people go each year. We want to get as many kids in the state track meet as we can.”
In addition to the aforementioned state championship titles, during Boldt’s tenure, the high school boys program was state runner-up in 2008 and 2019 and took third at the state meet in 2003; the girls team was state runner-up in 1999, 2004 and 2006.
“All the success goes to the kids,” Boldt emphasized. “I’ve just been really blessed over the years and I’m just excited to be part of it.”
The rest is gravy
As a track coach, the sport inevitably brings both highs and lows for each athlete, sometimes on the same day. As a spring sport, even the Kansas weather can have a direct impact on practice schedules and meet performance.
“Listen, in the state of Kansas it’s either cold or windy or rainy or snowy or all four,” Boldt joked.
Considering the potential challenges of a competition, each year before regionals, Boldt reminded his team that track is different from many other sports because on the bus ride home, some athletes are celebrating a state berth, and some athletes are disappointed, whereas in other sports like volleyball, basketball, baseball or softball, everyone either goes to state together or doesn’t. He concluded his regional track speech with: “don’t let your highs be too high and your lows be too low,” meaning for his athletes to stay level-headed and able to compete in the next event no matter the result on the one before.
“When you come out for track you’re really putting yourself out there,” Boldt said. “Even on a relay it’s pretty evident when you have the baton or it’s your turn to jump or you’re on the track, all eyes are on you. Even the best athletes need to prepare because if they expect to compete at a high level, they really have to prepare with their coaches.”
Boldt also said he appreciated the sense of community between track and field coaches from different schools. Coaches are willing to help each other out.
“There’s not a lot of ego out there when we’re coaching track because we just love to communicate that we’re willing to help kids,” he said. “Track coaches all over our league, in our state, everybody kind of has a niche you can go to them and ask them about and people are always willing to share advice. That’s one thing I like about track and field as a whole.”
Part of Boldt’s expertise as a head coach was his desire to always find something each athlete could find a degree of success in.
“We want to find something that a kid can be successful in, and if that kid’s successful in something, they’ll take ownership of that event,” Boldt said. “You have to have success or you won’t keep that kid. Once they have success, then intrinsic motivation kicks in and all of a sudden, that’s when the kid is really in tune.
“The best groups that we’ve ever had – the most successful groups – are the ones who bought into the team aspect. They’re doing what they can to score any points they can. When the kids know they can be part of the successful team, that’s when you find kids doing everything they can to score one point. That just kind of evolves over time and when that happens, you kind of hit that sweet spot.”
And ultimately, Boldt said, the goal is to prepare athletes to peak at their biggest meet whether that’s a CKTL competition, league, regionals or state.
“I don’t care how you measure success in track – you can measure it by the number of kids out or how many got a league championship – but I think the most important manner of success is, we’ve got these young people out and get to help them develop into a better athlete,” Boldt said. “It’s all about relationships. That’s what I look back on and the rest is just gravy.”