Mark Buesing has coached about 1,200 cross country runners in his 12 seasons as head boys coach at Libertyville, starting with 18 in his rookie season and 111 in 2011. Libertyville has posted more wins and more conference championships than any other team in the North Suburban Conference, among other golden moments.
But not one Wildcat under Buesing has ever qualified for the state meet, though three times a runner has come one place away from advancing downstate.
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Still, Buesing's approach as a coach -- focusing first on life lessons for the teens he leads, and then their form and more over the 3-mile course -- is appreciated immensely. Buesing and the Wildcats' program don't need a state tournament trophy to showcase his merit.
Buesing is now a finalist for, perhaps, a bigger award than one he could claim from the IHSA. Buesing, 46, in his 19th year teaching, is one of 25 finalists from across the country for the Most Inspiring Coach Award, presented by shoe and apparel company Brooks Running.
As the company stated in announcing the finalists, "The 25 coaches we chose stood out, because of their dedication to their teams and communities, their Run Happy spirit, and their ability to motivate and support their athletes during challenging situations."
John O'Malley (Sandburg) also is a finalist. He and Buesing are the only two from Illinois.
"I don't know who nominated me, but I have my suspicions. No one has come forward yet and said they were the person or people who nominated me," Buesing said, laughing. "It's probably a former runner, or a former runner's family. At least that's my guess, but, regardless, it's flattering that someone thought enough of what I do here to fill out a nomination (form) online. The fact that I'm a finalist is really do to whoever nominated me.
"It's pretty interesting, touching. It makes me feel good."
Buesing, who lives in Bristol, Wis., graduated from Peoria Richwoods High School, where he was a two-time state qualifier on the school's swim team. He then went to the University of Illinois, where he got hooked on triathlons, once finishing 20th in the nation at the Collegiate Championships, and graduating with honors in electrical engineering.
Once in the real world, he spent three years working as an engineer before switching gears, literally, to become a professional bicycle rider for three years. His bike training included stints at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, including the 1992 Olympic Trials, and he twice was named the Illinois Rider of the Year.
He started teaching at Grayslake High School and has been at Libertyville since 1995.
"Honestly, I don't think I do anything different from thousands of other coaches across the country and, if you read through the credentials of the (24 other) finalists, there are some really inspiring coaches for multiple reasons," said Buesing, who also has been a Libertyville assistant track coach for three years.
"I work hard, and so do thousands of other coaches. I try to motivate and just try to get the best of the students, as do thousands of other coaches. To me, I'm more representing all of the hard work that goes on daily."
Buesing was selected a finalist from more than 1,300 nominees. Each of the 25 finalists receives $5,000 in Brooks gear for their team and a $500 check for additional Brooks goods.
"One of my focuses is to simply get more kids running," Buesing said. "Only seven of those 111 (Libertyville cross country runners in 2011) run varsity; the other 104 are out (there running) for 104 other reasons. They aren't going to win; they will never win a race, but they're coming out every day, doing the same hard workout that all of the other runners are enduring. That's motivating.
"When you see a kid cross the finish line in a race and he's set a new best time, his personal record, that kid is so happy. He's accomplished something special. All of that hard work and effort pays off in a very tangible, chronologic way. That's inspiring to me and that's what keeps me going.
"To me, inspiration is a two-way street. I might be inspiring the kids, but every day, they inspire me, too."
Buesing is married with one son (Mason) and one daughter (Lauryn), and he can still run three miles in about 19 minutes.
"Personally, I tried all of the high-profile sports and, frankly, I was terrible at them," he said. "It wasn't until I found endurance sports -- swimming, cycling and now running -- that I was able to excel. I think my personal experiences match with a lot of the (experiences) of a lot of the kids on my team. Cross Country is a sport where everyone can have success; there's no skill to learn. There really is no coordination necessary, other than putting one foot in front of the other. So, everyone through a simple formula -- hard work and time -- can improve and measure that improvement in a very tangible way, even more tangible than wins and losses because sometimes (wins) might come on (account of) luck, but there's no luck in running. It's just you and the clock."
Buesing said many of his most memorable coaching moments aren't on the trails through Lake County, or at the Libertyville track where the team practices. Memories, in fact, often extend into a student's college life and beyond.
"Almost every year I get a letter from a kid in college who says, 'The lessons that you taught me have really paid off,'" said Buesing, who often preaches to his student-athletes about the pitfalls of drugs and alcohol.
Almost always, those letters from former students tell of friends who have fallen by the wayside after getting caught up in drugs or alcohol, but Buesing's speeches -- and the former Libertyville students -- stand tall.
"That's a huge highlight," he said. "Beyond running, it's molding men which is infinitely more important. That's very inspiring to me."
Buesing admits his strength as a cross country coach isn't, or hasn't been, with the elite high school athlete. He even admits that he might be the worst coach in the state aiding the top-level prep athlete improve seconds off his race time, perhaps dropping from a 16-minute race to a 15-minute race.
Instead, he shines with the underdogs, helping the rookie runner who, on his first day with the team, needs 33 minutes to cover 3 miles, and then, by his senior season, covers the same course in, oh, 24 minutes.
The runner has made huge improvements on and off the course -- and that brings a huge smile to Buesing's face, not just the runner's.
"I love, love, love those (underdogs)," Buesing said.
That's part of the reason why, at the end of each season, the Libertyville team presents an award to the senior runner who has made the biggest improvement.
"(Presenting) that (award) is a thrill for me," Buesing said.
This year's Libertyville team is anchored by senior Nick Korhumel, who last year joined Buesing's dubious list of runners who were one place away from advancing to the state meet. The others were Derek Laughlin, now an English teacher at Round Lake, and Mitch Neubauer, now a student at Purdue University.
"I felt terrible for those kids (when they didn't qualify)," Buesing said. "Interestingly, I still am in contact with all three of them. For some reason, they don't blame me for not getting to state, and each has turned out to be a terrific man."
Thanks, no doubt, to Buesing.
"Coach Buesing is an inspiration to our students," Libertyville athletic director Briant Kelly said. "He has the ability to encourage students to join the cross country team and also develop into runners. The team has improved greatly with Mark as the head coach."
• To vote for Buesing, go to: www.brooksrunning.com/Brooks-Inspiring-Coaches-Program/coaches_inspire_program, default, pg.html