Track and field: Cary-Grove coach Anderson honored for his inspiring tenure
Longtime Cary-Grove girls cross-country and track and field coach Mark Anderson learned a valuable lesson at a clinic he once attended.
"You learn to coach the way you are coached," he recalled being told. "There's not a truer statement."
Anderson, who recently was the recipient of the Brooks Running Co.'s inspiring coach of the year award, said his coaches at both Willowbrook High School in Villa Park (Jim Tyree) and at Augustana College (Paul Olsen) left major impressions on him.
"My coaches made a real positive impact early on," he said. "Tyree taught me about self-confidence and the value of hard work. When I was at Augustana I knew I wanted to be a coach and a teacher and coach Olsen impressed on me during my campus visits there that he was the kind of coach I wanted to be in the real world. Going there was the most important decision in my life next to marrying my wife. He was very positive and very enthusiastic and showed me the kind of coach I wanted to be. He had the power of motivation. I wanted to run through brick walls for him. I made three campus visits and each time it was 2 ½ hours back to Villa Park and I would get back and go on long runs. He was a massive motivator."
Brooks bestowed the award on Anderson for "his ability to create a home for all young runners and make each of his athletes feel included and empowered," the company stated. Brooks honored Anderson on April 26 at a surprise pep rally at The Runner's Depot in Crystal Lake.
"The award is a national award that goes to high-school track and cross-country coaches who go above and beyond to inspire young runners and create lasting differences in their communities," Brooks Running Co. explained. "For the track season we only recognize two coaches. Mark ranks among the inspiring of the inspiring and we're excited to honor him."
Cary-Grove graduate Bree Bogucki nominated Anderson for the award. Bogucki is a high-functioning autistic who joined the Cary-Grove track team her sophomore year.
"I was a sophomore in high school when I felt like I really didn't fit in with having autism," she said. "My friend suggested I try track and field. I was not a runner at all before I started."
Bogucki noted she ran 10- to 12-minute miles before joining the team.
"I hated to run," she said.
And then Bogucki met Anderson.
"He accepted me and took me under his wing. He made me believe in myself and I finally felt accepted somewhere. I started working harder and eventually increased my time with my best mile around 5:39 or 5:40," she said. "I eventually got into cross-country as well. He got me thinking about running in college."
Bogucki now runs at Harper College in Palatine and will compete in JUCO nationals next week where she plans on running the 10K next Thursday and the 5K on Friday in Maryland. Bogucki was part of the Harper women's cross-country team that won a JUCO national team title last fall and earned all-American honors.
"I love running now," she said. "(Anderson) is a really good coach and really believes and cares about his athletes."
Anderson, an English teacher at Cary-Grove, was taken by surprise by the Brooks award. "It's pretty cool and it's pretty unexpected," he said. Anderson is in his 15th season as the girls' track coach at Cary-Grove and completed his 17th season as head cross-country coach last fall. His track teams have won 10 Fox Valley Conference titles and five sectional titles, while his cross-country teams have won 7 FVC crowns and have made two state team appearances.
"He's very motivating," said Cary-Grove junior sprinter and long jumper Cathy Franco. "He has so much to say. He's always there for you. He's a goofball who cracks jokes and lightens the mood if someone is having a bad day. He's very inspiring to be around. He's more than a coach. He's a genuine guy. With all the motivating he does, you can't help by give even more for him."
Senior distance runner Meghan O'Malley added: "What makes him so special is he goes out of his way to get so many girls involved in the team. He tries to get as many girls to join as possible. He pushes new people to come out and give it a shot and be part of the team. He motivates people to work hard and be part of something great."
Anderson stressed the sustained success the program has enjoyed throughout the years would not be possible without plenty of assistance.
"The culture at Cary-Grove High School is outstanding," said Anderson, who along with wife, Danielle, are the proud parents of sons, Ricky (9), and Johnny (6). "Success breeds success among all the sports. We have great assistant coaches and a great administration that believes in our programs. And then my wife, Danielle, is almost like the unsung head coach of the program. We have two small boys and she keeps the fort down. She's always supportive and encouraging me. She's always there and encouraging me to keep doing what I do. Honestly, she's instrumental in this award."
Anderson said the litany of titles and awards the program has racked up over the years takes a distant second chair to his real purpose for coaching the legions of young women he has in the last 17 years.
"We always have emphasized the team involvement," he said. "Every kid on the team is important. We're going to have our state qualifiers and our conference championships, but if every kid on the team can be better than when they started, that means just as much as the medals and the trophies. I want to be out there motivating kids and getting them to believe in themselves just like my coaches did for me. When I talk to kids about joining the team I tell them your success is squarely on you. It's not about an offense or a defense or getting an assist, it's about stepping in a lane or runway and getting a quarter-inch further on a jump or a little faster on a run. That's what we celebrate. If kids can come out here and be successful, what challenges will be insurmountable to them in life? They see that they have been pushed and challenged and now they can handle the things life can throw at them. My goal always has been to have an impact on kids' lives to where they will benefit just like I did from my coaches."
Mission accomplished and then some.
Mike Miazga has been writing about sports in the Fox Valley for nearly a quarter-century. Email him at email@example.com. Keep the college spring sports submissions coming.