2018-06-13 / Front Page

Retiring As Coach After 37 Years, Wagner Will Miss The Kids


Tom Wagner, former Pettisville head track and field coach, walks the track with 4x800-meter relay runners, from left, Nichole Foor, Kate Stuber, and Morgan Leppelmeier, prior to the Division III state track & field meet, Friday, June 1, in Columbus. The relay (with fourth member Elizabeth Sauder, not pictured) placed fifth.– photo by Beth Foor Tom Wagner, former Pettisville head track and field coach, walks the track with 4x800-meter relay runners, from left, Nichole Foor, Kate Stuber, and Morgan Leppelmeier, prior to the Division III state track & field meet, Friday, June 1, in Columbus. The relay (with fourth member Elizabeth Sauder, not pictured) placed fifth.– photo by Beth Foor After 37 years of coaching– building a program from practically nothing– Tom Wagner, track and cross country coach at Pettisville Schools, is retiring.

Wagner racked up an impressive record any coach could be proud of. His teams made eight trips to the state tournaments and brought home one state championship.

He also had numerous individuals run at state.

But for Wagner, it’s about the kids.

“I’ll miss the kids, no doubt about it,” he said.

“I mean, my next-door neighbor– she’s going to be a seventh grader, and she’s been running with her dad. ‘Mr. Wagner, Mr. Wagner, I’m ready to join the cross country team!’

“I mean, how do you not miss that?”

Start

Wagner became Phil Rychener’s assistant coach in cross country in 1981. After that first year, he became the head cross country coach.

The PHS track and field team was composed of three to four students in 1982.

After offering to help out with track, he was given the chance to take over the program.

For his first season, Wagner recruited about 37 students, “and we had zero facilities. I mean, we had no track,” he said.

“We ran around the softball diamond. That was our speed workout, and we used to joke about hurdling the gravestones as our hurdles.

“It was tough. I remember going to the first meet, and a lot of kids had not even seen a track before.

“It was a tri-meet with Hilltop and Stryker in the spring of ‘82. I told the one high jumper just to jump high, and he ended up winning. We ended up winning the meet.”

About 1989, Dave Grieser, of the former Dave’s Sand And Stone (now Grieser Transportation), had a son in track.

“We were over at Liberty Center, and he says, ‘How come we don’t have a track?’

“I said, ‘We don’t have the room, and money, and little things like that.’

Grieser paced off a few measurements, made some calculations, “and he’s like, ‘I think we can make this happen.’”

“We put the whole thing (track) in for about $37,000, which is unbelievable. We had all the volunteer help in the world.”

In the summer of 2006 an all-weather surface was added.

“We had Haley Nofziger out. She was runner-up at state in the long jump; I mean, she was a heck of an athlete.

“Her dad owns M&R Redi-Mix. He and his wife spearheaded the funding for the all-weather track.

“I kept dropping little hints, like, ‘Man, it would be nice if she could run on an all-weather track,’ little things like that.”

Weight Room

The high school weight room has also evolved.

“Back in ‘81-’82, we had something that might have been misconstrued as a weight room. I had kids bring in free weights,” he said.

Next, the weight room was in a closet.

“It was a pretty big closet, but it was still a closet.”

The weight room also occupied an old Rupp Lumber building and space adjacent to the current junior high gym.

“When they put the new building on, they gave us three (former) classrooms. “We knocked down the two walls and made it one huge room.”

In the beginning, getting girls into the weight room for training was difficult.

They would say, “’I don’t want to be able to beat my boyfriend up, I don’t want to get big thighs and big calves,’ and it’s like, ‘No, you’re not going to, you’re really not,” he said.

“And over the years, the girls have changed with it, and have grown accustomed to doing weights.”

Among the many training techniques Wagner implemented are ice baths.

Athletes step into trashcans filled with water and ice and are submerged past the hamstrings. The cold helps clear lactic acid from the muscles.

The students initially balked at the idea, “but after they see what it does for them, it’s ‘hey, can I take an ice bath?’

“They turn it into a social thing. I get a number of them in there, and they’re all in at the same time, talking and whatnot. They love it.”

Stories

After years of coaching, Wagner has plenty of stories.

“We had a boy… we were at Edon, and he was a seventh grader, and he was doing the hurdles. He came to one, and ended up going under it, and it was funny… under a hurdle.”

One girl would call him every night before a meet and ask what spikes (long or short) to put on her shoes.

“She had done this for a number of weeks, so finally I had a little fun with her.

“I said, ‘Put your long ones in your right shoe, and your short ones in your left.’

“And she goes, ‘Really?’ And I said, ‘That’s because of the centrifugal force, you’re going around the turns, that’s going to help you.’

At that point, he lost his composure and had to tell her the truth.

“She said, ‘Oh, Wagner…’”

He said again, he will miss the kids.

“You know, the friendship with them. You’re not buddies with them, but you’re friends with them, and all the little things.

“It’s just hard to put a finger on it, but they’re neat.” –corrected 6.19.18. 9:51 am

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