For closing insights on a fun and meaningful two years of cross country at Kaneland High School, I called up Coach Richard Born to discuss his coaching career with the program.
He started coaching Kaneland cross country in 1968. He was a science teacher at the school, and was approached by Kaneland track coach and athletic director Bruce Peterson to consider taking over the cross country program. That conversation likely generated from Born’s teaching association with another Kaneland legend, Harold Anderson, a chemistry teacher.
“We worked together in the science department,” Born recalled. “And I think he mentioned to Peterson that I might make a good coach.”
Born inherited a program in its infancy. He took it from a 4-4 record in its early stages to a 14-3 dual meet record and qualifying through districts for sectionals in just five years.
He laughed in recalling how the program was pretty basic at its beginning. “Back then, Coach Peterson would drive the kids in a truck out to County Line Road and tell them to run back. It was a lot quieter back then. You couldn’t do that nowadays.”
Born’s background in track was helpful in the early stages of his coaching career. It also helped that his sharp and clear voice could be heard at some distance, a benefit in the sport of cross country.
He recalled with pride the cross country course mapped out in Elburn Forest Preserve. “They manage it differently for wetlands now,” he noted. “So the course isn’t even possible any more.”
Elburn was a rugged and challenging course, a pure cross country experience if there ever was one. The opening mile with its increasingly steep hill, a trek through thick woods and a mile time near the entrance… was an immersion in every possible sensation related to running. The deep shade and changing leaves. The crunch of gravel underfoot. Emerging from the woods to hear the mile times called out….”5:10, 5:11…”
Born was ably assisted by assistant Coach Larry Eddington, a soft-spoken former miler whose running acumen was valuable in the coaching of high school kids. Together the two of them built a foundation for Kaneland cross country that has lasted for fifty years.
One of Born’s fondest memories is the first Little Seven Conference team victory in 1972. “It was basically dark when the meet finished,” Born recalled. “And we only beat Oswego by one point.”
His other favorite recollections center on the Kaneland Invitational, a meet that athletic director Bruce Peterson favored with Richard Born proposed it. A tremendous amount of resources and human helpers go into conducting a meet like that. Inviting the teams, organizing the race and having it be well received year-after-year is a reward that only coaches fully understand. Giving kids the opportunity to compete and grow from the experience is the principal benefit of coaching.
Rich Born did that really well. And while my family situation changed and we moved to another town and another school the winter after my sophomore year in cross country, I’ve always wanted to publicly thank Richard Born and Larry Eddington for the guidance and encouragement they gave all of us at Kaneland.
It was a strange feeling for me to go back to the Kaneland Invitational that next year and run against my former teammates. But they were on a mission of their own by then anyway. The Knights won the Little Seven Conference again the year after I departed. “We won it by a larger margin,” Born recalled.
It helped me realize that no one is irreplaceable. We all try to make our mark and then life rolls on. Life, and even death, awaits us no matter where we are. “A great man once told me that death smiles at us all,” says the Maximus character in the movie Gladiator, “All any man can do is smile back.”
At fifteen years old I had no idea what type of life lay ahead for me, or anyone. What I am grateful for is the smiles earned and given along the way. That was certainly the case in those early days of running. Smiles all around.
Great story and very heart felt. Glad to hear about someone like that who made a great investment into your life. I can’t wait to hear how you talk about Kent. You know, Chris, I was near the back of our team most all the time at Luther. But coach Kent made me feel like I was number 1. And to me, he was totally sincere about it. There are 4 men in my life who I would say made me what, who I am today and Kent was one of them. But as you were top runner, and I have to add an inspiration to me, I talked with some of your fellow horses and while they like him as a man they questioned some of his coaching methods. Of course, you know this, but when you have say 20 guys on a team its nearly impossible to be the best coach possible to all of them. You have different abilities, different psychies, different motivations, etc. I remember reading about the University of Kansas coach, I think it was Bob Timlin, who coached perhaps arguably the greatest runner in US history Jim Ryan. Since I lived less than a mile from Drake Stadium in Des Moines, I saw him run many times at the drake relays. Were it not for the elevation in Mexico city (7,000 feet) he would have beaten Kip Keino in that race. I lived among the Kenyan runners for 5 weeks in 1986 and the elevation was 7,000 feet. He trained in it. Anyway, back to Timlin most of Ryan’s fellow runners felt he was a slave driver of a coach. But it worked for Ryan. Again, every single runner on a team has a different nmakeup. I’ll stop here. But love your running stories and can’t wait till you get to the Luther years.
Actually, I don’t think it was Kent’s training program that was at fault. It was the “all hard, all-the-time” culture of the cross country and track teams. We essentially raced every day in practice. I’m not sure what Kent prescribed, for example, on pace for our 20-mile run to North Winnieshiek and back. But what I recall is that we ran it at 6:00 per mile pace. That’s racing.
There were a few mistakes that Kent made along the way, such as training us with a speed workout on a cambered road. We all got injured.
I’ll write about some of that when we get there. A couple years of St. Charles to cover first.