Lasting impressions; Park’s assistants were once his students

By Erika Pedroza | Published Saturday, September 29, 2012
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The residue of a mark on the dry-erase board can be seen, even though it’s been erased.

FROM STUDENTS TO COLLEAGUES – Two of coach David Park’s assistants – Kristina Bird and Hassie Sutton (far right) are former students from his time at Keller High School. Park and Bird coach cross country and track at Decatur High School, and Sutton coaches at McCarroll Middle School. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Coach David Park used the analogy to explain the benefits of having three coaches with similar methodologies and philosophies, beginning at the middle-school level.

Perhaps that could also explain why there are three coaches with similar thinking in the first place. Kristina Bird and Hassie Sutton, who ran for Park at Keller High School, now coach cross-country and track alongside him in Decatur.

“What’s written there first will always be there,” the coach said about the training regime being engrained in young runners beginning in middle school.

For Bird and Sutton, Park’s coaching left a mark they could never forget.

“When you’re around so many coaches, it helps you define the coach you want to be,” Bird said. “The things Coach Park did, the way he coached really stuck with me. I have tremendous respect for him.”

Bird, who ran cross-country and the 400-meter and 800-meter race in track under Park’s guidance, graduated from Keller High School in 2001 and went on to the University of Texas at Arlington on a track scholarship.

She graduated in 2006 with a degree in kinesiology, then took a job in Hillsboro.

In the fall of 2007, Bird ran into Park at a cross-country meet in Cleburne.

“He asked me how happy I was in Hillsboro, and asked if I would be interested in an opportunity closer to home,” Bird recalled. “I said, ‘Sign me up!'”

Before the end of that school year, Bird inked a contract with the Decatur school district and started that fall, where she’s been for four years coaching cross-country, track and basketball (until this year) and teaching biology.

“Coach Park knows running in and out,” she said. “And he’s not a coach that just talks the talk without walking the walk. He’s been there. He’s run the marathons. He knows the pain. And you trust what he says. He has the war stories.”

Sutton graduated from Keller High in 2006, where she ran cross country and the mile and two-mile race in track. She saw the difference when Park left Keller for Decatur after her sophomore year.

“Coach Park has the ability to motivate anybody, and I really admire and look up to that,” Sutton said. “I strive to be that. He could get anybody to run. After he left, our numbers went down. And not to knock on the coach who replaced him. He was a great coach, but he didn’t have that ‘Parkism.’ Kids need that, and he provides that for them.

“He’s knowledgable and his people skills – only Coach Park could get away with calling someone ‘turtle’ or the ‘fastest slowest person.'”

Sutton went on to run at Midwestern State University, from which she earned a degree in exercise physiology.

“I did my internship at Decatur, and I knew this is where I wanted to be,” she said.

However, there were no positions available immediately after her college graduation. Sutton coached at Hico before this year landing a job at McCarroll Middle School, where she teaches seventh-grade science and coaches basketball, track and cross country.

Having Sutton at the reins at the middle school only enhances a running program that has seen two state championships and consecutive state meet appearances in cross-country under Park’s tenure.

“From this point on, with Hassie at the middle school, the freshmen we get won’t be rookies,” Bird said. “Hassie is teaching them the drills, the basic concepts. We won’t be having to reteach them all of that. They’ve got it. They’ll be taking the right steps. That learning gap isn’t there.”

For Sutton, the success of the program helps her close that gap.

“I get to tell the middle-school kids that those state champions down the road at the high school are doing the same things,” she said. “And it’s state champions down the road, not in a different city. They’re right here. They have a constant reminder, and for a lot of them, it’s people they know.

“I was coached by Coach Park and coached with him during my internship, and I know how fun Coach Park makes the sport,” she continued. “I want to spread that passion and fun. I tell those kids that if they think it’s fun now, ‘just wait ’til you get to high school.'”

A lot of the fun lies in his theories of hard work and constant encouragement.

“You coach the kids; you don’t coach the sport,” said the coach of 28 years, nine of those at Decatur High. “As long as we stay kids first, the rest will take care of itself. That’s not to say we’re not demanding – you would have seen demanding this morning. But it’s all a part of getting them so they can have that feeling of accomplishment and success.

“You don’t have to be No. 1 to see improvement, to get better,” he continued. “There’s no better feeling than watching a student medal for the first time or break a personal-best time. You recognize achievements, regardless of if they’re the No. 1 runner or No. 21. Everybody is going to get better. Everyone can be coached to improve. The competition begins with yourself. We all celebrate everyone.”

These are theories all three share – and that pleases the seasoned coach.

“The fact that they even wanted to become coaches is one of the most gratifying feelings a coach can have,” Park said. “Yes, they are two of my better runners, but more than that, they’re tremendous people. They’re cut out to be coaches. Everything about them has ‘coach’ written all over it.

“Anyone can learn the physiology. Anyone can learn the drills and how it all comes together. You can get that from a book,” he continued. “It’s the intangible that makes these two great. Their passion, their caring, their way with the kids. The people with the pen to make the mark are the people we want to have the pen. We’re definitely a better program because of these two young ladies. It’s a blast.”

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