Special to The Gardner News
The month of July saw the accolades continue to roll in for the Gardner-Edgerton High School track and field program.
Just over a month after the Trailblazer boys captured the Kansas 6A Boys State Championship and the girls claimed fifth in the state, boys’ head coach Brian McGee and girls’ head coach Larry Ward were each named Kansas 6A Track and Field Coaches of the Year by the Kansas Cross Country and Track and Field Coaches Association.
“It’s always amazing to be recognized by your peers,” said McGee in a recent interview. “The cool thing was to read emails and text messages from coaches I really respect around the state congratulating me on this honor. The next cool part for me then was to thank our assistant coaches, and our kids, and our parents, and our administration for their support because quality programs don’t get to become quality programs without those vital pieces.”
McGee was in his late 20s when he took the program over from GEHS coaching legend Rich Ludwig over a decade ago. There have been many talented athletes, coaches, and teams that have competed for as Trailblazers in that time, including 2018’s State top 5 team, and all of them have contributed to an enjoyable and rewarding journey for the head coach.
“Those first few years I was so focused on winning,” McGee said. “What I’ve learned over time by observing successful coaches and programs, being with Coach Ward as long as I have, continuing a dialogue with Rich Ludwig on a daily basis, is that if you take care of the other things, if you build a culture of positivity, support, and quality instruction to the kids — if those things are in place, the winning takes care of itself.”
“What you have to do is to do things the right way, because, ultimately — when those kids are 30 or 40 and they have kids of their own — did they learn those life lessons? Are they leaving your program better than when they entered it? Are they leaving as better people and productive citizens? That’s the success that really excites me.”
McGee, Ward, and all of the GEHS Track and Field coaches have dedicated much of their energy to create a “family” among the track and field athletes and alumni. Blazer track and field alumni routinely come back to the program after graduation to speak to the athletes, provide mentoring, and even just to support and cheer on Trailblazer competitors at meets from the regular season and up to — and including — State Championship competitions.
The GEHS boys’ 2019 champonship was a culmination of many factors coming together: 17 talented athletes qualifying for State, years of training and preparation, training for peak performance at key meets, and a competitive and confident mindset from coaches and athletes alike.
“This was about a 4 to 5-year process,” stated McGee. “There was a very strong group of seniors that started with middle school experience, came together as freshmen, saw the potential they would have for a potential championship 4 years down the road. They stayed with it. They didn’t break off and do their individual things or quit the team in the spring so they could get a job. They stayed focused. They stayed together. That, supplemented with younger, talented kids who followed that senior leadership really allowed for this talented team to come together.”
McGee greatly credited all of the coaches in the GEHS program and saved a special shoutout for Mark Simoneau who heads the GEHS Strength and Conditioning program.
“Mark and I would have weekly conversations,” McGee stated. “He was deeply involved in the physical preparation of our kids, both in the offseason and in season. He understands that one hand helps the other, so we would have to be on the same page with how he’s training them and how I’m training them. Then I could communicate that to the other coaches on our staff. To have that piece coming together has been an absolute joy as well.”
McGee gave special mention to both Ludwig and Ward for their influences on both him and the program.
“They’re both friends and mentors,” said McGee. “I view Rich as a father figure. They both have probably forgotten more about track and field than I even know. I’ve learned countless lessons from them — from how to manage a team, to how to construct entries at meets, to building workouts appropriately to peak performance at meets on those championship weeks, to managing things outside of the sport — the distractions that come along the way. The true care and concern those guys have for the high school, the program, the kids, and the community is a daily motivating factor for me.”
McGee, Ward named Kansas 6A track coaches of the year