MISHAWAKA — Brad Robertson coached boys track and field for 36 years at Penn High School — the last 29 as head coach — with more than just the best times, heights or distances in mind.
Robertson wanted his Kingsmen to learn something about themselves that goes beyond sports.
"Hopefully, track and field has added to their maturity and given them some confidence to go on and pursue whatever their dream may be," says Robertson. "You're going to learn a lot about yourself in that last 200 meters — whether you're willing to step it up when times get a little bit hard. Those are some life lessons that you carry on."
Retiring Penn High School boys track and field coach.
Coach: Led Kingsmen to 250-71-2 mark in indoor and outdoor competition … Served 29 years as head coach after seven as an assistant to Bob Wiseman … Coached three state champions in three events — Thad Palmer (high jump, 1991), Kyle Johnston (pole vault, 2012), Joey Weller, Conner Sowders, Tommy Grant and Tim Deal (400 relay, 2012) … Coached 19 sectional, four regional, one Goshen Relays and nine Northern Indiana Conference team champions … Named NIC Coach of the Year six times … Nominated for Indiana Coach of the Year four times … Selected as Ball State University Alumni Coach of the Year two times … Coached track and football and Lima Junior High in Howe, Ind., three years before coming to Penn.
Education: Graduated from Mishawaka High School (1971). Earned degrees from Ball State (B.S., 1976; M.S, 1979).
Teacher: Industrial technology at Penn.
Family: Wife — Marilyn. Children — Ashley and Kyle. Ashley Davis, a 2001 Penn graduate, now teaches and has coached track and cross country at West Side Middle School in Elkhart. Kyle Robertson, a 2005 Penn graduate, placed 15th in the state meet as a pole vaulter his senior year.
Robertson, 61, has decided carry on his life without coaching track. Though he plans to remain a technology teacher at Penn, he has retired from his coaching duties.
An avid skier — snow and water — Robertson wants to spend more time with his wife, Marilyn, at their lake cottage.
But he will miss his time at Freed Field and all the other ovals around Indiana.
"I'm going to miss the young men I've gotten the pleasure to know," says Robertson. "They've given more to me than I've been able to give to them."
With many fine athletes and a stable of talented assistant coaches, Robertson racked up 250 dual-meet victories in indoor and outdoor meets and won numerous Northern Indiana Conference, sectional and regional titles and enjoyed seeing high jumper Thad Palmer, pole vaulter Kyle Johnston and the 400-meter relay foursome of Joey Weller, Conner Sowders, Tommy Grant and Tim Deal all earn state championships.
Robertson was never a "fire and brimstone" coach, but was able to get the most out of his athletes — whether they were consistent event winners or "program kids."
He got them to bring it on meet day and to sacrifice at practice and in the weight room. Counting preseason and indoor meets, track is a long grueling season of more than six months.
When Robertson started, his team typically had about 50 participants. In recent years, it's been closer to 100. He has managed that number with assistants and volunteers and athletes who wanted to compete and contribute.
One motivator the past three seasons is the regional where the team title was decided each year by one point (Penn winning once and Warsaw twice), making each athlete's performance important.
The sport does not play favorites.
"I love coaching track because track really allows you to coach all of the athletes equally," says Robertson. "The bottom line is I don't decide who competes in a single event. Their performances do. You don't enter into the politics of sports.
"If a freshmen comes in and beats out the senior, I'm treating them both the same, trying to get them both to improve. It's a pretty simplistic thing. If you don't like the position you're in, you need to get better."