Legendary Conant coach's spirit runs through summer track meet

With high school sports, there is always another game, match or meet, and an entirely new roster of competitors every four years. But four years after his death, legendary Conant High School track coach Ron Gummerson still gets his message across, even with folks who never met him.

On Thursday, July 23, The Ron Gummerson Summer Track Meet will celebrate its fourth anniversary. Open to elite competitors, former competitors, little kids, old people and families, the track meet isn't just named in memory of Gummerson; it's his track meet.

“Ron and I together, we ran the summer track meets for 25 years,” says Jack Ary, a longtime cross-country coach at Conant who coached track alongside Gummerson. “It's as big of a draw today as it ever was.”

In a suburban era where boys and girls often spent their summers on soccer fields or baseball and softball diamonds, Gummerson and Ary came up with the summer meet as a way to introduce track and field events to kids. The coaches' children grew up with those meets.

“As a kid, I remember going to these summer meets,” says Kevin Gummerson, who ran at Schaumburg High School in competition against his dad's teams. Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, the younger Gummerson now coaches the girls track team and both cross country teams at Minooka Community High School. Ron Gummerson's influence went beyond his family or high school teams.

“Kids — I call them kids but they're not kids anymore — they come back for the meet,” Ary says, noting that some volunteer and others run in alumni races. “He had a lot of athletes who kept in touch with him for years. Everybody loved Ron. I miss him so much.”

After 29 years of coaching, Gummerson retired in 2002 and joined Ary in the Illinois Track and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Gummerson's father, Roy, was instrumental in building the sport in Illinois high schools and earned the nickname “Mr. Track” throughout the state. Ron Gummerson was diagnosed with melanoma in 2009, and treatment appeared to be working when the cancer spread unexpectedly and he died on May 12, 2011, at age 66.

“I had him for 42 years,” says Sheila Gummerson, his widow and mother of their seven children, all of whom volunteer with the summer track meet. The pain remains raw enough to bring her to tears, but she says the track meet is a day for fun, memories and smiles. The proceeds of the all-volunteer event fund a Ron Gummerson scholarship of $1,000 awarded annually to one male and one female track athlete at Conant. One recent recipient said, “God, I wish I would have known him. He sounds like a great guy,” Sheila Gummerson says.

People want to carry on Gummerson's memory because of the way he influenced fellow teachers, other coaches and all the young people under his care, says Ary, 72, who also coached at Harper College and St. Viator High School and now volunteers with his grandchildren's cross country teams in Huntley.

“It's a personal thing. You just let the kids know you care, no matter how good they are,” Ary says in describing Gummerson's philosophy. “I call it coaching from the rear. You treat the slowest kids the same way you treat the stars.”

Unlike other sports, where some young athletes are cut from a team or seldom play, track and cross country welcome all.

“Nobody sits on the bench. Everybody gets to compete,” Ary says.

“He truly made every kid feel special,” Sheila Gummerson says of her late husband. “He made an impact on a lot of kids.”

Some of those kids are now coaches nearing their own retirement, she says. One of her late husband's favorite sayings was, “What I accept, I am” — a message that resonates beyond the athletic arena.

“Every day, he had an impact on a tremendous amount of people,” Kevin Gummerson says, noting that his father's attitude rubbed off on everyone he met. “Those lessons are still being taught and the impact is still being felt. Get excited about what you're doing, and be positive for the kids.”

Conant's Gummerson ran race with dignity and grace

Conant to honor late track coach

A legendary Hall-of-Fame track and field coach at Conant High School, Ron Gummerson died of cancer in 2011. But the summer track meet named in his memory draws an eclectic collection of his former athletes, current competitors, little kids and families. Daily Herald File Photo
With events for runners of all age, The Ron Gummerson Summer Track Meet at Conant High School in Hoffman Estates schedules races for families, kids, former high school athletes and elite runners. Courtesy of Ron Gummerson Meet
Started a generation ago by legendary coaches Ron Gummerson and Jack Ary, the annual summer track meet at Conant High School in Hoffman Estates now raises funds for a scholarship in the name of Gummerson, who died in 2011. Courtesy of Ron Gummerson Meet
The Ron Gummerson Summer Track Meet at Conant High School in Hoffman Estates not only draws elite runners from area high schools, it also attracts plenty of alumni athletes. Courtesy of Ron Gummerson Meet

4th annual Ron Gummerson Summer Track Meet

<b>When:</b> Thursday, July 23. Registration opens at 4:30 p.m. with races starting at 6 p.m.

<b>Where:</b> Conant High School, 700 E. Cougar Trail, Hoffman Estates.

<b>Who:</b> Open to all ages and abilities.

<b>Cost:</b> $5 for adults. $3 for children.

<b>Why:</b> Honors legendary coach and funds scholarships.

<b>For information:</b> Visit <a href=""></a> or email or

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.