What defines a successful coach?

Wins? Championships?

For many, a winning record or a title would serve as a triumphant season, justifying the work that was put in throughout the year.

For Jim Thorpe cross country coach Drew Benyo, the definition of success has a much greater reach, with a wide-range of accomplishments that span over two decades.

Those achievements haven't gone unnoticed, as Benyo was recently one of 25 cross country or track coaches throughout the country nominated for the Brooks Inspiring Coach Award.

The honor came as somewhat of a surprise to the longtime Olympians' coach.

"I received an e-mail from Derek Lactaoen, the Consumer Marketing Coordinator for Brooks Running, on May 30, but I had no idea who nominated me at that time," Benyo said. "I contacted my brother, Richard, in California and he had nothing to do with it. I also contacted my former junior high coach, Janet Ginder, and she also had nothing to do with it.

"When I started calling friends, classmates, former runners, and current runners' parents to ask them to vote for the award, Mrs. Saxon and Mrs. Fields informed me that Christian and Nathan Fields, current runners, several other parents and my current junior high coach, Marie Rosahac, had gotten together to submit my name for nomination. "

Because of that nomination, the Jim Thorpe cross country program will be awarded $5,000 worth of Brooks running gear, as well as $500 cash to be used for team expenses. If Benyo is selected the top coach, the team will receive an additional $5,000 in gear and $2,000 in cash for team expenses.

The fact that his team initiated the process is only right.

"As far as the nomination, I have now, and have had for the past 25 years the very best young people in the Jim Thorpe School District in our cross country program," Benyo said. "Not necessarily the best athletes, but the best quality kids.

"For over 25 years these kids bought into what I am teaching, my methods of coaching, and they believe if they follow our instructions they will reach their goals, and they will be successful, and they have been."

Benyo has had the distinction of coaching 11 PIAA state qualifiers and 14 Schuylkill League Division 3 championship teams. One of his runners, Chelsea Mullins, entered the Jim Thorpe Area Sports Hall of Fame in 2010 and another, Erin Kennedy, will be inducted on Aug. 17 of this year.

But he is most proud of what his former runners have accomplished after high school.

"My kids have gone on to become engineers, school teachers, doctors, researchers, physical therapists, world travelers and defenders of our country," said Benyo. "The very best of the best."

But Benyo knows none of that success, either on or off the course, would have been possible without a strong support system from the community.

"In all that time, all those wonderful young people, the one constant in addition to the team members, is the constant support of the parents," said Benyo. "What an honor it has been to be supported at every turn by caring and giving mom's and dad's. Without their support, encouragement, and belief in me as a teacher, coach, and as a person none of this success would have been possible.

"All the encouragement, the support, the belief that I could make a difference in their child's life. That love and caring means more to me than victories; great young people from outstanding parents."

And it's that support that will help drive the campaign, which is not lost on Benyo.

"One of my former runners told me over the weekend that 'we are in it to win it,'" said Benyo. "Yes we are. What a truly amazing opportunity to do something wonderful for a non-income sport."

All nominated coaches were posted on the Brooks website (www.brooksrunning.com/inspiringnominees [2]) yesterday. Anyone is eligible to vote, and the number of votes will be considered as 50% in the judge's final decision. Voting closes on July 31 and the winner will be notified on Aug. 1.