Cross Country coaches

Valparaiso assistant girls cross country coach John Arredondo, left, and head coach Boomer Nellessen celebrate the Vikings' recent performance at the Duneland Athletic Conference meet.

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Any good head coach will tell you they're only as good as their assistants.

In cross country, the logistics of the sport almost demand it.

"I don't get around like I used to," Crown Point boys coach Keith Iddings said with a laugh. "On some courses, you're fortunate the mile and two-mile are nearby, but a place like Lemon Lake, if we have our whole team running, there are kids of varying abilities. It's just not possible to get from one point to the other."

At meets, you'll see coaches strategically fanning out across the course like a SWAT team, well, without the weapons.

"In track, you go in an oval, you don't go different places," Chesterton boys coach Tim Ray said. "You're going different places. One of us might say, 'Well, I saw him at the 1K and he looked good', and the other might say, `Well, I saw him at the 3K and he looked awful.' It's nice to have that second set of eyes during races."

Ray and assistant Tom Moeller have been on staff at Chesterton for close to 20 years, starting with Steve Kearney in the late 1990s. A few years later, when Ray took over as boys coach, Moeller was a natural fit, and the two have been together since.

"At the end of the day, I'm the guy with the label but I see us as co-head coaches and I think the kids would agree," Ray said. "We feed off each other. There's so much that goes on during a season, the biggest thing is being able to bounce ideas off each other. It's nice to have a person with so much knowledge, so much experience. We may or may not always agree with each other, but there's that respect aspect."

It wasn't long ago that Lowell didn't have enough runners to need a second coach. The teams were small enough to travel on the same bus and girls coach Scott Coil and boys coach Jake Rakoczy were each other's sounding boards. Both teams have grown significantly and while Rakoczy continues to go it alone, Coil has volunteer help in George Ramos, who is involved with the Calumet Striders, a local club in which a number of Lowell kids run.

"He wanted to get into high school coaching and I thought it was a good fit," Coil said. "It added a comfort level. He provides a lot of invaluable things. It's a hard sport to get through. It's a lot easier when you have someone else going through the same thing. At times, we have different views, but I don't want somebody telling me everything's great. That's what makes you grow as a coach, as a program."

The yelling you see during races aside, Coil and Ramos both have low-key coaching personalities, a demeanor Coil believes best suits the sport.

"The sport's hard enough as it is, we don't need to add on top of it," he said. "It's more about picking them back up."

Iddings had the same assistant for 16 years in Lafey Armontrout before he was no longer able to coach. Now helped by Aaron Carter and volunteer Eric Forehand, he has found himself playing good cop and bad cop over the seasons, depending on the team.

"It's important to be on the same page, but it helps if one of the coaches is laying down the law, the other is has a little more of an arm around the shoulder approach," Iddings said.

Ray is more of a hard-liner, so Moeller's laid-back approach provides a good contrast.

"I'd definitely say I'm more intense in some aspects, but other times, he's just as intense," Ray said. "After a race, I might get discouraged and he'll make a quick point, well, he beat so and so or his time was this amount faster. It's a balancing act."

There isn't a more entertaining duo than Valpo girls coach Boomer Nellessen and assistant John Arredondo.

"Having a good relationship beforehand is really key. Our styles are very similar. We're both very energetic and it plays off each other," Nellessen said. "Everybody asks how I do three sports as a head coach. No. 1, I've been blessed to have great assistants I can trust. No. 2, there's no ego. We understand what we're there to do, to help the kids."

Arredondo also coaches the distance runners for Nellessen in track season.

"I look at him as my offensive coordinator," Nellessen said. "He came in at a tough time. It was the first year we didn't make it to state in 25 years. I know it was more injuries than anything, but it still makes you question everything you've done. A lot of our philosophies are the same as far as mileage and training, so it really helped bring back my confidence that what I am doing it right."

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at james.peters@nwi.com

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Jim was keeping standings on his chalkboard from the time he could print and keeping kickball stats in grade school at St. Bridget's. He covers all manner of prep sports for The Times and is a long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan.