Kurtz's legacy as Fenton cross country coach is still running


Fenton's boys cross country team pulled in at the end of Tuesday's Illinois Prairie Path training run ready for a treat -- a trip to a bagel shop for well-deserved refueling.

A thousand miles away, two Fenton graduates, brothers, lead a pair of college cross country programs.

The link is Bison coach John Kurtz, whose reach spans far and near. His decades coaching cross country and track at Fenton have provided guidance to generations of runners.

Cross country is never easy. This year's Bison, headed by seniors Axel Nava, Leonel Rodriguez and Joseph Rivas and juniors Sam Hernandez and Felipe Ruiz, pulled their team downstate a fourth straight year, 15th in program history, by overcoming hardship.

"Almost every one of our athletes had to overcome some kind of obstacle over the course of the season. They are a team that perseveres, no question about it," Kurtz said.

Art Siemers can relate. The eldest of seven children who went through Fenton and five boys who ran for Kurtz, Siemers calls Kurtz "the most motivational coach I've had in my career."

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Kurtz returns the favor. He said Siemers, a senior on Fenton's 1989 third-place Class AA squad, is a "Horatio Alger" rags-to-riches story.

"You talk about a self-made individual," Kurtz said. "He started out, went out to Colorado on his own. No job, nothing."

He did have teaching experience in Bensenville, however, and assisted Kurtz his first year out of college in 1995. That helped land a high school job in Colorado after Siemers arrived in 1997.

He then progressed to a coaching position at Colorado School of Mines. He coached in both track and cross country programs from 2002-11, taking the Miners to top-five national finishes his last three years. Thus, Division I Colorado State recruited him to take over its cross country program in 2012.

While at School of Mines, something of a Northwestern of the Rockies for engineers, Siemers convinced his brother Chris, nine years his junior, to come west. Specifically to Western State, where he was a three-time All-American. Chris eventually joined his older brother on the coaching staff at School of Mines.


"We're best friends, I was the best man at his wedding," Art said. "It's kind of nice to have a brother also in the profession."

Each is an Olympic Trials qualifier in the marathon. A three-time all-stater at Fenton in cross country, Chris set Colorado's marathon record of 2 hours, 18 minutes, 48 seconds in 2011.

"Art and Chris are very close," Kurtz said, and a nice article on their relationship recently was published by the Denver Post.

"Art has sort of been one of his mentors growing up," Kurtz said. "Art has always been a terrific big brother and helped to guide Chris."


Before he went to Colorado State, Art convinced the School of Mines athletic director to take a look at Chris as his successor.

"It was an easy sell," Art said.

In Chris' first year as head coach in 2012, the Orediggers men finished second in Division II, the women eighth. Last year the men placed fifth.

Colorado Mines' men are the four-ranked Division II men's program in the country. Art's Rams fell out of the top 25 in Division I just this week. In 2013 Art led Colorado State's men to the national championships for the first time in nine years.

Stating his pride for what the Siemers boys have accomplished, and who they are, Kurtz said, "Pride with all capital letters, and repeat that 100 times."

Kurtz praised parents Art and Nancy Siemers for a "doggone terrific job raising seven children, all quality people."

Art Siemers and Kurtz remain particularly close. They speak a few times on the phone each month about Colorado State cross country and about other things that have nothing to do with it.

Each year Kurtz and his fellow snowbird, his wife, Dawn, head to Florida following the cross country season. Each year they welcome Art and Erica Siemers as guests.

"I always had a passion to coach because of Coach Kurtz," Siemers said.

One day, perhaps, Fenton's 2014 downstate crew may follow suit.

"The kids, they will start as children, as freshmen, and eventually, like Art, we become very close adult friends," Kurtz said. "That's one of the joys of coaching for a longer period of time, is the friendships you build and grow and maintain."


In all the hubbub we'd neglected to note a couple area graduates had been inducted into Augustana University's "Tribe of Vikings Hall of Fame" on Oct. 11.

Among the nine new inductees were Drew Carstens, out of Downers Grove North; and Scott Schmid, of York.

We bump into Schmid from time to time. He's a prep sports reporter with Suburban Life newspapers, highly knowledgeable and always friendly, quick to laugh. He's also a prep basketball and football official.

At Augustana Schmid was an infielder and pitcher who helped the Vikings go from a 17-18 record his freshman year to 38-8 in 2000 as a senior, a program wins record. Three years out of four he was a first-team all-conference pick in the College Conference of Illinois-Wisconsin. Twice Academic All-America, Schmid graduated holding Augie career records for at-bats, runs and hits and his .410 batting average still ranks third.

Carstens was honorary captain of the 2000 Daily Herald DuPage County All-Area Boys Basketball Team, able to get to the foul line any time he wanted. He went on to lead the Augustana men's basketball team in scoring all four seasons, the only Viking to do that. Carstens, now assisting Jim Nazos with the Batavia boys, earned first-team all-CCIW three times and D3Hoops.com All-America once. He ranks second all-time in Augustana scoring, third in 3-pointers and first in both free-throw attempts and makes.

Far and wide

Following up last week's item on Benet graduate Connor Powers competing in Tuesday's Re/Max World Long Drive Championship in Las Vegas, he didn't win the thing his first time out.

The winner was Powers' former Mississippi State baseball teammate Jeff Flagg, who won the $250,000 first prize when his longest drive, more than 365 yards, landed 13 inches farther than his closest competitor.

The stern crosswind at Paiute Golf Resort knocked balls down and drove them out of the marking sector. Powers figured he finished last of the "Las Vegas Eight" since none of his balls landed inbounds.

He did, however, set a competition record for club head speed at 156 mph -- "so that was pretty awesome," he said.

The fastest speed measured on the PGA Tour last year was Bubba Watson at 127 mph.

Pell mell

Another area graduate, Lake Park's Camden Murphy, made his debut on a different pro circuit. A driving instructor and professional racer, Murphy competed in his first NASCAR race, the Kroger 200 Camping World Truck Series race Oct. 25 at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia.

Dispensing with an engine that loosened up in his first practice session, Murphy's crew went with a backup. On a course described as a "paper clip" that claimed six cars to accident or blowout of one sort or another, Murphy worked his Ronald McDonald House Charities Chevrolet Silverado to 21st place out of 36 drivers, moving up from 29th at the pole.

A week later Murphy was in a different car on a different circuit at a different track. Driving a Miata for Clos-Line Motorsports, on Nov. 1 he won the ALM 12-Hour Enduro race at the Autobahn Country Club course in Joliet.


Follow Dave on Twitter @doberhelman1

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