When Steve Kearney envisioned what his last season of coaching would be like, this certainly wasn't one of the scenarios.
The retiring Chesterton girls track coach, who has spent his entire teaching and coaching career at his prep alma mater, has been relegated to the press box with a broken arm sustained in a running mishap.
"It's not the way I wanted to go out," Kearney said. "I miss the interaction with the kids."
Kearney was running a few weeks ago when he tripped on a tree root. He instinctively extended his arm to brace his fall and the heel of his palm caught a bigger root. His right arm absorbed the impact, snapping the bone at the neck of the humerus.
"It wasn't humorous," Chesterton athletic trainer Nancy Furcsik said, making a medical play on words.
Because of the location of the injury, Kearney must avoid all risk of contact. He is unable to teach, though he hopes to return as an aide soon. He will not undergo surgery due to the potential risk of nerve damage and loss of mobility that won't be as great through the natural healing process.
"I can't write; I can't bend over," Kearney said. "It hurts to stand. It hurts to sit. I bumped a doorway and it about killed me. I'm pretty worthless at school."
On the track, assistants Brian Carden, Bryan Nallwenweg, Jim Socha, Sam Marshall and Katie Cahillane are picking up the slack.
"I've always been a figurehead," Kearney joked. "I try to surround myself with good people. That's my secret. Now it's out."
A 1966 Chesterton graduate, Kearney originally intended to stay on for a few more years, but state changes in teacher retirement annuities would negatively impact him if he did.
"Steve has left an indelible mark on an awful lot of people," Chesterton Athletic Director Garry Nallenweg said. "He's one of the good guys. You won't find a better person, a better coach. He's in it for the right reasons. I've been fortunate to know two of the greatest ambassadors for track and cross country in the state of Indiana in Larry James and Steve Kearney. Steve's been a phenomenal spokesperson for those two sports. He will be missed."
Nallenweg has known Kearney since the early 70s, when he had him as a teacher at Chesterton.
"We go back a long time," Nallenweg said. "Steve lived in the same neighborhood as my parents. His younger brother was a year ahead of me. I've known him on a lot of different levels – coach, colleague, friend. He's one of those people who has given to the community all his life. Chesterton is his community. He's a permanent fixture here. His commitment to the youth of the community, how many people he's touched, in some cases, the children of children, is unbelievable."
In addition to Chesterton track and cross country, "Kearn Dog" remains active in the Calumet Region Striders Club.
"Steve's one of those guys who's a whiz with numbers, figures," Nallenweg said. "It's so natural to him. I'm in awe of people like that. He's a guy who knows every back road in the state of Indiana because he's run 'em all."
Restricted to quarters for now, Kearney is sending practice schedules from home and will watch meets from upstairs.
"It's very unfortunate, but it's not like Steve won't be around," Nallenweg said. "The kids are in good hands. We have very capable assistants and he'll still be behind the scenes, calling the shots. He just has to be very conscious of his surroundings. We want him to heal and get back for the postseason."