Gerry Stein (pronounced Gary), life science teacher for eighth grade at Greene County Middle School in Jefferson, has taught successfully for 33 years.
In addition, he’s coached a variety of sports for more than 28 years, and this year he was honored by being named the Iowa Cross Country Coach of the Year from the Iowa Association of Track Coaches.
Stein, who coaches both girls and boys cross country, received the award at the annual Hall of Fame banquet Dec. 7 in Ames.
Stein says his attitude about coaching is much like his attitude about teaching.
“I stress improvement from practice to practice and from meet to meet,” he says. “I don’t stress winning the meet as much as competing against themselves.”
He encourages, and expects, students to better their past times whether they are practicing or at a meet. That’s important because cross country is about endurance. Early in the season, it is very hot and can be difficult.
“I try to keep it fun,” he says. “I heard a coach one time say he didn’t want students leaving the field hating the sport.
“I want students to encourage each other during the meets, to promote camaraderie,” he adds.
As a coach, he concentrates on helping the athletes focus on establishing a good base endurance distance. The distance for meets is two miles. Practices, however, are two-plus miles — anything from a little more than two miles to as many as four miles. The distances run during practices depend on the weather conditions.
Practices also vary according to what kinds of cross-country courses are coming up. Cross-country courses can be flat or hilly, Stein explains. When there is a meet coming up that is hilly, he’ll have students run hills rather than sprints.
“It still gets the heart rate up and achieves the same goal as a sprint, and it gets them used to running hills,” he says.
While there are a few tracks on which the students run meets, the majority of courses are run on hilly courses, such as the golf course near Perry, he explains.
“Students who come out for cross country are very goal-oriented, or they came out for the sport because their friends are out,” Stein says.
He’s had more than 20 students out for boys and girls cross-country, and as few as eight 16 years ago.
“I know a lot of the students who go out for cross country with me, and then go out in high school as well,” Stein says.
“My philosophy? I always want kids to do the best, and I want them to improve a little bit every day whether in cross country or in the classroom,” he says. “I also get that goal for myself.”