Coaches play a large role in shaping the youth in a town. Some coaches merely make an appearance for a year or two and fade away from memory. Every now and then, there is a coach that influences generations and leaves a lasting impact on their athletes.
Duane Wilken is known to the Bloomfield community as an amazing coach who has mentored his cross country athletes for the last 47 years.
He has recently been recognized on a much larger scale. U.S. Cellular has picked Wilken, along with 49 other coaches across the country, to be a part of their Most Valuable Coach campaign.
Wilken humbly stated that it was quite the honor to find out he had been chosen as one of the top 50 coaches in the nation. He is excited to have an opportunity to earn a $5,000 grant for his school.
The Most Valuable Coach campaign selected 50 coaches from all sizes of schools and a variety of sports. The campaign now allows the public to vote on the top coaches. As of now, Wilken is seated at number 14, and the top 15 coaches will earn $5,000 for their schools.
Originally from the Bloomfield/Crofton area, Wilken went to school and ran cross country and track for Crofton. His passion lead him to running for his college team.
“I went to college, basically to run,” Wilken said. He decided around the time of his junior year to become a teacher so he could coach as well.
His passion and his focus was coaching. According to Wilken, it took a few years to learn how to put as much energy into his teaching as he did into his coaching.
“That’s when I developed a love for teaching,” he said.
Wilken taught math for 41 years, and after retiring, he said he was able to focus on coaching. So far, 47 years of coaching has lead him to coach many great athletes.
There have been many state champions and amazing runners Wilken has had the privilege of coaching throughout the years, but one of his proudest moments is winning the state championship in 1980 as a team.
“I have been blessed to have a number of state champions and great athletes, it is hard to narrow it down to just one proud moment,” he said.
Wilken’s enthusiastic, positive coaching style helps the athletes want to do their best. He stresses the importance of making it to all practices and meets and to do it all with joy.
“We have really been preaching to the kids to take joy in everything that you do, whether its in track and field or life in general. There are going to be some good times and not so good times,” Wilken said.
Focusing on the good and not dwelling on the bad is what Wilken and his assistant coach, Jackie Freeman, hope to get across to the athletes.
“If you focus on the negative, boy, it becomes a real uphill battle,” Wilken said.
Wilken referred to the Christian band, For King And Country, and their songs and how they sing about choosing joy and not dwelling on what could of happened. He believes as long as you choose joy, you can always make something good come out of a situation.
Although Wilken has seen many great athletes come and go, he continues to grow as a coach. Since retiring from teaching, he has dedicated even more time to coaching. He now spends his time looking into how to make the athletes the best they can be.
He sifts through the internet to find information, and he said he feels more knowledgeable now than he was earlier in his career.
“I think it was John Wooden, great basketball coach from UCLA, he was talking about the fact that as a coach when you’re done learning, you’re done,” said Wilken.
He believes coaching should be a continuous learning experience, just as it is for an athlete.
Voting For Most Valuable Coach Goes Until October 8