What keeps coaches coaching?
Last week, when Bob Mitchell decided to relinquish his football coaching duties at Northwestern High School after 28 years, it got me thinking.
First of all, it made me realize how long I have been covering local high school sports. It has been 10 years this fall.
That might be just a little more than a third of the time coach Mitchell has spent preparing his Tigers over the years, but it made me realize how fast time flies once you're out of school.
It got me wondering more about why so many coaches over the last decade have stuck with coaching for so long, some for 20 to 30 years or more.
From my own memory, or through conversations with my colleagues in the office this past week, several names came to mind.
There's Len Smith, who has spent 26 years with the Northwestern baseball team; Weatherly softball coach Margaret Brown, who has coached the Wreckers for the last 30 years; Marian football coach Stan Dakosty, who will enter his 34th year next season; and Northern Lehigh cross country coach Dave Oertner, who has conditioned Bulldog harriers for more than 28 years.
I was able to talk to Oertner and Dakosty about what motivates them to coach for as long as they have.
"You don't realize how fast the time goes," said Oertner, who has coached Bulldog harriers since 1981. "I have been around a long time. The rewarding thing is when you get an e-mail from somebody that you coached 22 years ago, and, they tell you, 'Coach, I'm still running and my kids are running.' And they tell you about your family those are the neat things. Those are the reasons you kind of coach.
"That's what you do it for you do it for those reasons. Just for personal satisfaction because you feel good when kids are happy and they grow as individuals. That's the best part of it."
Dakosty, who is the longest tenured head coach in the TIMES NEWS area at this moment, pinpointed three things that have kept him involved with student athletes as long as he has been.
"Obviously, you got to love to coach," said Dakosty. "Second, I have a real passion for history (a subject he's taught at Marian since 1979). I really enjoy the classroom. I enjoy our kids. That doesn't post a problem what-so-ever as far as time (to split between teaching, coaching and family). My schedule works out really well.
"Finally, you have got to love where you're coaching," Dakosty said. "I think the environment at Marian High School is outstanding. It's an outstanding school in itself. And, the support from our administrators, faculty, students and people of the Men of Marian and the Quarterback Club has been very good. The attitude toward football at the school is really, really positive and that makes it a great place to work too."
While Dakosty pinpointed the following of the Marian faithful, Oertner talked about the all-around support he gets from those who he goes home to every night.
Oertner has been committed to cross country for the better portion of three decades, and also served as track assistant for 26 years. Oertner has also coached boys' basketball for close to 10 years ('85-'86 to '87-'88, and then from '90-'91 to '95-'96) and is currently coaching girls' basketball for the last three years.
First and foremost, Oertner said the support he has received from Bea, his wife of 28 years, has allowed him to fulfill his coaching commitments at Northern Lehigh High School.
Oertner admitted coaching two sports during the same school year is a lot more demanding.
But the fact that he is now getting a chance to coach two of his own children Lauren, a junior; and Amie, a sophomore makes it well worth it. With his son Andy currently in eighth grade, that number could increase to three next year.
"I'm very fortunate. I'm very lucky that I can now coach my own kids," said Oertner. "So now when I'm putting in all of this time with other people's kids, I'm also putting in time with my own kids. Very few people have this opportunity that I have. It's a great opportunity for me right now. So staying all these years has paid off in the long run for me."
While a lot of things factor into a coach's decision of when to call it quits, Dakosty said he starts by asking himself a couple of very important questions every year.
"My measuring stick is how I feel about the upcoming season," Dakosty said. "Am I excited? Am I ready to go? As long as I can still answer yes to both those questions, I know I still have the love and enthusiasm I need to do the job. If that feeling ever changes, I'll know that's it's time to get out.
"It will be my 34th year as a head coach next season, but it's that team's first season and that's the way I treat it. It's not the 34th season, but the first year for the 2010 squad."