Kenai Central track coach Liz Burck congratulates Candace Walker after a recent race.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
The sports of track and cross country are those hardest hit by coaching resignations at Kenai Peninsula high schools this year.
Soldotna cross country and track and field coach Mark Devenney is leaving both posts after 14 years at the school and three state titles in track and three more in cross country.
Kenai Central cross country and track and field coach Liz Burck also is stepping down. Burck was the cross country coach for eight years and has been involved in track for six years five as the head coach.
Cross country also will lose head coaches Mario Bird at Nikiski, Kyle Gauthier at Skyview and Daryl Farrens at Homer. Farrens also is the cross-country skiing coach at Homer.
Track also will lose head coach Chris Hanson at Ninilchik.
Burck is in her 24th year as a biology teacher at Kenai Central. She coached gymnastics for four years in the early 1980s. Burck is a recreational runner, so in 1997, when the cross country job opened up, she was asked if she would be interested.
She knew some of the kids involved with the program and knew they would be good to work with, so she said yes. She immediately started building the numbers for the program with her enthusiasm. Burck also spent the summer before her coaching debut reading and listening to as much about the sport as she possibly could.
"There's just so much to know about those sports," Burck said. "They appear fairly simple but they can be so complex. The learning curve still continues."
Shortly, Burck had the program at a high level, with her girls cross country teams winning region titles in 2000 and 2001. Burck said another highlight was the girls getting their first trophy with a first place at the Homer Invitational in 1999.
"She did a very good job of attracting kids," Kenai Central athletic director Tim Delaney said. "Participation can be more important than anything else. With participation came really successful teams."
Burck said she will continue teaching biology at Kenai Central next year. She said it won't be long before she leaves teaching, though, so she wanted to start pulling back by quitting coaching.
The Kardinals also had success in track under Burck. She had at least one state champion in each of her five years as coach. This season, the Kenai Central boys won their first region title since 1982. Another highlight for Burck was the boys track team winning the Skyview Invitational in 2004.
"It was just a matter of generating the interest of kids who had some natural ability," Burck said. "I tried to get them to stick with it if they were good in middle school, or try it once they got to high school. I'd try and work really hard so they felt success."
Although Burck is done coaching, she said she will still be a regular at the meets. She also wanted to thank assistants Kim Foley, Matt Winbigler, Renee Henderson, Clayton Holland, Tim Sandahl, Ken Felchle, Sharon Thompson and Bruce Jackman for all of their help.
Burck is the only head coach who has announced she is stepping down at Kenai Central, while Devenney is the only coach stepping down at Soldotna.
At Skyview, Kent Peterson, who is the current cross-country skiing coach and has coached cross country running in the past, will replace Gauthier. Also, boys head basketball coach Dave Blossom will not be back after five years on the job.
At Nikiski, the cross country and hockey programs continue to have high turnover with the loss of Bird and hockey coach Donald Torres, who each were at their posts for a year.
The Bulldogs also lose head girls soccer coach Richard Kelso, who has been with the program since 1997, when soccer was a club sport.
"All will be missed, especially in a situation where we're losing good people already," said Nikiski athletic director Ned Clooten, who does not have replacements for any of those leaving. "The shortage is definitely there.
"It's getting harder and harder to find good coaches, period."
In Homer, in addition to finding replacements for Farrens, athletic director Chris Perk must replace head boys basketball coach Steve Smith and head girls basketball coach Megan Murphy. Smith was the head coach for two years, while Murphy lead the Mariners to a fourth-place finish at state in her only year as head coach.
"I'd just like to thank all of them for their hard work," Perk said. "It's definitely getting to be more of a thankless, full-time job, especially for coaches who aren't teachers."
Cook Inlet Academy also will be looking for basketball coaches. Girls coach Greg Bell and boys coach Bruce Gabriel are both stepping down. Bell was the head coach for four years. Gabriel led the Eagles to an undefeated state championship and a Class 2A state title in his lone year as coach. He also was named the Class 1A-2A Coach of the Year.
Kevin Spence, the principal at Cook Inlet Academy, said there are no replacements for the two, yet.
"We're just grateful for the time they put in," Spence said. "We'll miss them. We thank them for helping and being part of the ministry."
In Seward, athletic director Richard Redmond is being transferred after just one year on the job. Head boys basketball coach Dan Krier will take over athletic director duties and remain boys basketball coach. There will be no coaching changes at Seward.
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