STATE TRACK AND FIELD 2019

Terry Coleman braces for his last state track and field meet with Iowa City High

As an assistant and head coach, he guided the Little Hawks to 7 state titles, and now retirement awaits

Iowa City High girls’ track and field coach Terry Coleman will conclude his career — which has included seven state championships — at the state meet this weekend at Drake Stadium in Des Moines. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Iowa City High girls’ track and field coach Terry Coleman will conclude his career — which has included seven state championships — at the state meet this weekend at Drake Stadium in Des Moines. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Terry Coleman already misses the “chess game” he has mastered for the past 25 years.

Instead of rooks and bishops and pawns, his pieces are runners and jumpers and throwers.

Instead of a checkerboard, his canvas is a striped oval.

“It’s a little surreal that it’s almost over,” Coleman said. “I’m so used to daydreaming on the bus ride home from state, starting to think about next year.

“But this is the last lineup, the last meet.”

Coleman, 54, serves as athletics director, as well as girls’ track and field coach, at Iowa City High. He has accepted “an offer too good to refuse,” an early-retirement package.

“It’s something I felt I needed to accept,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of friends that work until they are 60 or 65, they get done and some tragedy happens, they get sick.”

Coleman’s coaching career has featured seven state championships at City High. As an assistant to Steve Sherwood, he helped guide the Little Hawks to championships in 1997, 1998 and 1999. As a head coach, he led them to titles in 2002, 2003 and 2004. As a co-head coach with Tom Mittman, it was another crown in 2011.

It concludes this weekend at Drake Stadium in Des Moines.

“I’m biased, but I don’t think there’s a better track coach out there then Terry,” said Sherwood, now a theology and ministry professor at George Fox University in Newburg, Ore.

“He’s a master tactician ... he’s always thinking about that third leg in the 4-by-200, who can he plug into that sprint medley, then double back a few events later.”

That’s Coleman’s favorite part of the job, tinkering with lineups in his mind.

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“It’s a chess game, it’s what I enjoy the most,” he said. “It’s something that you have to have a feel for. There were probably a couple of years we shouldn’t have won state, but with the lineup we put together, we did it.”

Of course, strategies don’t come to life if there isn’t talent, whether it’s natural, developed or both. And there has been talent during the Coleman Era.

Teesa Price and Kristin Knight. Michelle Lilienthal. Jennie Funk and Nelle Trefz. Kelly Krei.

“You can’t do it if you don’t have kids that are able to buy in,” Coleman said.

Coleman was a 1982 graduate from Pleasant Valley High School, where his athletics career was more defined by wrestling than track and field. After graduating from the University of Northern Iowa, he took a teaching job at now-defunct North Winneshiek High School north of Decorah. He coached girls’ track “as a way to earn a little extra money.”

He was at North Winn for two years, Mason City for three, Iowa City West for two before landing at City High in 1993. He became a girls’ track and field assistant in 1994.

In 1996, the head position came open. Coleman applied, and didn’t get it.

Instead, it went to Sherwood.

“That was the best thing that could have happened,” Coleman said. “I learned so much from Steve. We had simpatico; we worked so well together.”

Mittman came along as another assistant soon after, and the girls’ coaches had a master to learn from across the hall in John Raffensperger, who was building a boys’ dynasty.

Coleman was a natural at assembling lineups. Forging relationships with his athletes, that didn’t come right away.

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“Steve and Tom are masters at that,” Coleman said. “For me, it took some time.”

Sherwood said, “As time went on, Terry really relaxed and recognized the fact that kids were going to run better for you if they knew you enjoyed being around them. Now, he has become a key mentor for a lot of young women.”

One of them now is Caroline Schaeckenbach, a junior who has blossomed into one of the state’s best 400-meter hurdlers.

Schaeckenbach is home-schooled.

“I didn’t know who anybody was, and (Coleman) was very welcoming,” Schaeckenbach said. “I didn’t know that the 400 hurdles were a race, but he saw in me that I could be good at it.”

Coleman made a tactical move that helped propel the Little Hawks to a regional championship last week, saving Ayana Lindsey, then inserting her into the 1,600-meter relay shortly before the race.

The Little Hawks won the race, and the meet.

“I’ve got to tell you, that was darn fun,” Coleman said. “I had predicted the points, and I didn’t have us winning it.

“Winning the 4-by-4 to win the meet, it was gratifying. It was the only meet we won all season. It’s something I’ll take with me the rest of my life.”

Now, just one meet remains. Just one more lineup. Then the chess board gets put on the shelf for good.

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“We’re hoping for another top-10 finish,” Coleman said. “Maybe we can eek into the top five.

“I know this — the team has a lot of pride, and they’ll lay it all out on the line.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8857; jeff.linder@thegazette.com

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