After a couple of years of coaching at his alma mater in Keller, David Park put down his whistle and stopwatch.
He left the coaching ranks for a job with Hamilton Form Co., helping design roads, bridges and stadiums. But it wasn’t as fulfilling as being on the track, working with athletes.
It took someone who knew him extremely well to point that out.
“I credit my wife, Michelle,” Park said. “You do it for all the right reasons – to be home with your kids because in coaching you’re gone all the time. But my wife told me to call Jerry [Sanders], the AD at Keller, and ask if there are any coaching jobs.
“She said, ‘We’d rather you come home at midnight, than 5 p.m., and be happy.’ I think I called that night.
“[The three-year hiatus] helped me in retrospect. You’re always looking to see if the grass is greener on the other side. That period told me this is what I’m meant to do.”
After more than 30 years of coaching track and cross country at Keller and Decatur, a string of 32 district titles and four state championships, there is no doubt Park has found his calling. He’s loved every minute of it.
“Everyone else has to go to work for a living,” Park jokes.
The 2013 National Federation of High Schools Southwest Region Cross Country Coach of the Year and three-time 3A top coach will add another honor May 18 when he is inducted into the Keller ISD Athletics Hall of Fame. He’ll get the honor at Texas Motor Speedway at 1:30 p.m.
“I was hoping I could sneak in and not make too big of a deal of it,” Park said.
“I’m humbled by it because of the people that are in there. I’m getting credit for something a lot of other people had to do a lot of running for.”
A runner himself, Park has completed several marathons, including Boston. He said the sport fit him because unlike football or basketball, results were not based on talent and natural ability as much as your willingness to put in the hard work.
“It’s the perfect sport that emulates life. You get what you put into it,” Park said. “A lot of sports, no matter how hard you work, you’re not going to be the starting quarterback or star basketball player.
“Here, if you are willing to put in the work, you can be a good cross country or distance runner. The stopwatch doesn’t lie.”
Throughout his career he’s reached out to bring athletes from other sports into the track and cross country program.
“When other sports would post their cut lists and those kids looked dejected, I’d go by and tell them ‘Come on, I’ve got a place for you,'” Park said. “My fastest kid came from being cut from basketball and went on to get a four-year full ride to TCU.”
While his teams have enjoyed unparalleled success, Park says there is no secret workout.
“Coaching runners is science. I’m by no means a scientist,” he said.
Instead, success stems from the relationships he’s developed with the athletes.
“You go into coaching wanting to coach a sport. But you end up realizing you want to coach kids,” he said. “You’re going to get a lot more success when your focus is the kids. You care for them – not just in running.
“A saying I used at Keller, and it worked, was, ‘We’re not runners on a team. We’re a team that runs.’ We want everyone to feel like they are part of a family.”
During his time at Keller that family grew to more than 160 members that filled four buses for meets.
“I was having trouble at Keller getting to know everyone,” he admitted.
With his sons in Decatur schools, and realizing he was missing some of their events with his duties at Keller, he followed them in 2004.
“It was probably the best move I could’ve made,” Park said. “It’s been great here.”
In his first year at Decatur, his girls team made it to state in cross country. In 2005, the Lady Eagles captured the first of three state crowns. The Eagle boys added a title under Park in 2012.
But even with honors he’s won and his teams’ titles, he still quickly deflects the credit back to his runners.
“The kids got those. They are the legs that did it,” Park said.
And he has no plans of putting down his stopwatch again anytime soon.
“They are going to have to carry me out,” Park said. “Why quit doing something you love?”
- The rule in press boxes, on the sidelines and on the track is there is no cheering by members of the media. But every now and then, you run across a story or individual who is such an inspiration that those rules are forgotten. To me, that case is Kayson Roof, the freshman pole vaulter and hurdler from Slidell, who overcame a horrific accident as a child to become a state qualifier. As impressive as what she’s accomplished is, her perspective on her journey, saying “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” How do you not pull for her?
- Roof is just one of the inspiring stories in Austin this weekend in the girls pole vault. Emory Rains’ Charlotte Brown, who is legally blind, returns to the state meet to compete for a 3A medal. She enters state with 3A’s third-best vault, clearing 11-3 at regionals. In 5A, Northwest’s Desiree Freier will try to break her own high school record
- Possibly the best races of the weekend will be in the 3A 3200 and 1600 where Decatur’s Taylor Clayton and Sanger’s Jacob Perry will square off for the final times on the track. The two future Aggies took first and second at district, area and regionals. At the 3A Region II meet, the two traded the lead multiple times on the final lap of the 3200 with Perry getting the gold medal in a record-setting 9:18.72. In the 1600, Perry leaned across the finish line to beat Clayton by a hundredth of a second. Last time the two faced off on the state stage, Clayton left with the gold medal and 3A state crown in cross country
- Northwest coach Bill Poe got his first look at his team on the field Wednesday with the start of spring practice. The Texans will work out through May 29 and end the session with the spring game May 30 at Northwest ISD Stadium
- With the press in town for the state track meet, part of me wonders if the University Interscholastic League will announce a site for the 2015 boys basketball tournament. UIL officials acknowledged in March they were considering new sites or dates because of the growth of the South by Southwest festival in Austin. I’m still hoping to see the tournament come to Dallas and the American Airlines Center
- After six great games, the first-round series between the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs ended in a game seven that went how we expected the whole series to go. That will likely be the Spurs’ longest series until the Finals when they see LeBron James and Miami again
- It’s been a bummer of a week on the local pro sports front with the Dallas Stars and Mavs both exiting the playoffs and the Texas Rangers stumbling against Colorado. It’s always trouble looking for Jerry Jones to rescue the week at the draft.