By: Nate Calvin
When Ken Brown applied for a teaching position at Hilltop back in the summer of 1992 he was told eight young men had gone to the board of education and were able to get cross country reinstated as a sport at Hilltop. The school had been without cross country since the very early 1970s and Brown was asked if he could coach it and restart the program. Brown, who ran cross country and track in high school, agreed hoping it would help him get the teaching position. The rest is history as they say, with Brown just completing his 26th and final season as the man in charge of the Hilltop cross country program.
“Once they changed all the rules for retirement from teaching, it added eight more years to when I will be able to retire”, said Brown when asked when he started considering stepping away. “If that wouldn’t have changed, I think I would have coached thirty years when I was able to retire from teaching too”. Brown was considering last year to be his final season after 25 years but decided to come back for one more as his twin daughters, Kara and Landrey, were seniors on this year’s squad.
The Brown’s also have another daughter Kenley who is 19, and Katlyn, Kenley’s twin sister who passed away at six days old. While cross country has been the primary sport he has coached at Hilltop, Brown has spent time coaching girls and boys basketball, junior high track, and this spring will be 4th year in a row and 6th season overall as an assistant track coach. During his time, Brown’s teams had plenty of success with six league championships, three for the girls and three for the boys, and six teams qualifying for the Regionals (Boys-1996, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and Girls-2001, 2003). He had eleven runners qualify for the regional race as individuals and he took the boys team to three straight state meets from 2007-2009 along with having three participants at state as individuals during his tenure.
“Having good kids with good parents really helped the program and gave me the incentive to continue to coach”, Brown said when speaking about his longevity as the cross country coach.
With the word spreading, unknown to Brown, that this was going to be his final season and the final home meet of the season fast approaching some former players organized a surprise for their former coach. Bryce Detwiler, a former runner and now a cabinet maker, constructed a mile marker with a small plaque on it that was presented to Brown before the varsity race against Edon on October 5th. Former runners were invited for the surprise which completely caught Brown off guard. “I really didn’t know that many people knew I was considering retiring from coaching cross country”, said Brown.
The marker will be placed at the one-mile mark on the course which is actually on the Wabash trail behind the high school. When asked what he will miss the most about coaching there was one thing that he quickly thought of. “The first thing that pops in my head that most of my runners also say they miss is Fox and Rabbit, it’s a game we play on Fridays before we have a Saturday meet”.
Brown also added he will certainly miss the reactions of the kids have when they would establish a new time that was a personal best. “Seeing the moments of self pride when they reach that goal that they have been working so hard to attain. That’s what coaching is about, pushing athletes to be the best athlete they can be while also teaching them to become the best person they can be. I will miss being part of that”, he added.
As far as next fall goes, Brown and his wife of 23 years Laura plan on spending more time in the late summer at their favorite vacationing spot in South Haven, MI, making many more weekend trips to Ann Arbor for Michigan football games, and enjoying the freedom to go visit their daughters wherever they may end up at college. “Just spending more time with my wife as we seem to always be on the run somewhere. She has been so great through all my coaching jobs with her love and support, now it’s time for us to spend some more time together”, said Brown. Rest assured the next cross country coach at Hilltop will have some large shoes to fill.
Nate can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org