JIM PETERS: Hall-of-famer Edmonds remains active in track and field at 84

2013-10-09T17:00:00Z 2013-10-10T04:19:04Z JIM PETERS: Hall-of-famer Edmonds remains active in track and field at 84Jim Peters Times Columnist nwitimes.com
October 09, 2013 5:00 pm  • 

When you do what you love, you never work a day in your life.

I don't completely buy into the saying, but this is much is true: When you do what you love, you're willing to put the extra time and effort into your job.

Gene Edmonds is a prime example. At 84, he has logged over six decades of his life in track and field, and isn't done yet.

"As long as I can walk," Edmonds said. "I'm getting slower and slower. When I start holding up meets, I'll quit. I never thought I'd make it this far. I don't travel anymore, but it's nice to get around a little bit."

On Dec. 6, the former Rensselaer coach will make a trip to Indianapolis to be inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame for his work as an official.

"I was really surprised," Edmonds said. "I haven't done a national or international meet since (the 1996) Atlanta (Olympics), so I figured I was out of the picture."

His name and face still are well-known to the die-hards of the sport. Rensselaer football coach Chris Meeks, whose daughter, Chelsie, a state medalist thrower now at Purdue, was coached by Edmonds. Chris recalled a national AAU meet in Houston where a head official recognized Edmonds and opened the gates for Chelsie to practice.

"He has such a reputation nationally," said Chris Meeks, who had Edmonds as a teacher when he was at Rensselaer. "We went to Wake Forest and the first thing we were asked was if we knew Gene Edmonds. We felt privileged (to have him coach Chelsie). It was a great honor."

A native of Benton County, Edmonds played basketball at Indiana State and only had a flirtation with track.

"Most of the time in the spring, you were doing farm work," he said.

Edmonds started coaching in 1952 at Chalmers. He came to Rensselaer in 1960, where his career was strongly influenced by principal Dick Roberts, a former track coach who required Edmonds to put together a handbook on the events and his philosophy on coaching. Edmonds coached at Rensselaer until 1991, then spent the next eight years as the throws coach at Purdue.

"All your success depends on the athletes," he said.

While at Purdue, Edmonds saw officiating as a way to stay involved in the sport beyond coaching. He got into that end of track through Dave Rankin, the Boilermakers coach from 1946 to 1981. In '84, Edmonds was a finish line clerk at the Los Angeles Olympics.

Since he stopped coaching at Purdue, Edmonds has served as a throws guru, providing his expertise when asked.

"I'm pretty particular — that's one thing that goes with age," he said. "If I don't like what's going on, I can quit right now."

On Mondays, Edmonds makes the trek up to Portage, where throws coach Mark Harsha — one of his former students, athletes and assistants at Rensselaer — holds off-season workouts. Harsha has built one of the state's top throwing programs on the principles he learned from his coach.

"His experience alone, just talking, it gets the ideas flowing," Harsha said. "Sometimes, we speak a different language, but we're saying the same thing. He's a person who just loves helping kids, but he wants you to work. That's how he's been from day one and how he is now. I'm the same way. He's the one who taught me how to be a coach. He's had a major impact in how I do things."

In addition to his volunteer coaching, Edmonds still works meets at St. Joseph's College, Purdue, Indiana and IPFW, staying as active as someone half his age.

"Track's done an awful lot for me over the years," he said. "I'm just trying to return the favors. I like to see kids get in an event and have success because they're working hard at it."

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

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