Front Row Seat: Aurora's Kudley reflects on changes in track, top athletes

by MIKE LESKO | REPORTER Published:

John Kudley was linked to high school track and athletics over a span of 42 years. His longevity was remarkable as was his passion and commitment to the sport.

Kudley, who retired at the end of the spring sports season, was girls varsity track coach for 25 years and boys varsity track coach for 10 years. He was head cross country coach from 1972 to 1980. His reflections about some of the outstanding athletes he has coached are significant.

Kudley, whose coaching helped numerous athletes improve, said he has been "honored to coach numerous outstanding athletes over the past years."

He said the first journey to Columbus for the state meet in 1998 was followed up by 13 more trips to the state meet, with the last being in 2012. He said during that span, 23 athletes competed in various events -- 15 girls, eight boys.

"Our best showing was in 2001 when the girls finished eighth in the Division II meet," he said. "In 1999, the girls 4x100-meter relay (Jericka Duncan, Devon Steigerwald, Nicole Ice and Olivia Peters) was ahead of the fastest team in the state (Beaumont) when we dropped the baton on the last exchange during the semifinals.

"I have a video of the baton in mid-air between our two runners. The team from Beaumont came up to our girls afterward and congratulated them on their effort that they were really afraid of our team."

Kudley said there was redemption the following year, with a first-place performance by the 4x100-meter relay of Shea Simmons, Peters, Duncan and Ice. "It was a special group of young ladies," he said.

Simmons had qualified in both the 100 meters and 200 meters, but failed to make the finals. Duncan finished fifth in the 300-meter hurdles and Peters was fifth in the high jump. Peters also qualified in the long jump but finished just off the podium.

2000 ALSO was the year that James Sjostrom won the 1600- and 3200-meter runs for the boys.

In 2001, the girls won the 4x200 relay with a team of Simmons, Corie Moore, Casey Fischer and Duncan. Also, Duncan won the 300 hurdles, while the 4x400 relay team of Simmons, Moore, Jessica Hayes and Duncan finished in ninth place.

Peters got a full-ride scholarship to Seton Hall University and Duncan went to Ohio University.

"To show you how things work in coaching and you think you know everything, it was during Jericka Duncan's junior year that she asked if she could run the hurdles," he said. "My first reaction was no, since she was running the 100, 200 and sprint relays.

"She kept pestering me during practice that day, and I finally relented and said that she could run the 100 high hurdles. We set up a flight of hurdles, and she ran them in flats. She wanted me to time her and I agreed.

"When she was done, I looked at my stopwatch and told her to go run them again. We had a meet the next day, and I told her that she could run the 100-meter high hurdles. Jericka broke the school record and continued to reset it the rest of the season.

"Jericka also wanted to run the 300 [hurdles]," he said. "Unfortunately, in the regional finals she false-started and was eliminated from the finals. But that year, Jericka finished fifth in the state in the 300 hurdles. She won that event the next year as a senior. So much for knowing what I was doing."

Kudley said the 2004 girls 4x800 relay "was also a special group, finishing third at the state meet with Emilie Carroll, Laura Moore, Tamra Schiroky and Amy Moore.

"Most recently, it was high jumper Jessica Baker who was a total pleasure to coach," he said. "Jessica is now jumping for Miami of Ohio. She just missed qualifying her freshmen year as a Division I athlete, but went on to jump at the state meet the next three years. Her best finish was fourth place [at the state meet] her junior year."

Kudley said Jake Baechle and Jeff Smith were 800-meter runners, with Baechle finishing first at the state meet in 2006.

"HOWEVER, just as exciting were the numerous athletes who never made a name for themselves, nor set records, but were overwhelmed with excitement, joy and pride for performing to their best ability," he said.

Kudley said the hardest part of coaching "was knowing exactly what to say to that athlete who had just competed and felt that he / she had not achieved the goal that he/she had set."

"You share in their disappointment, but somehow find the right words to say," he said. "I always asked if they had given 100 percent and that if they had, that was all one could expect them to do -- that I know they were upset, but it was how they responded to the next challenge that really counted."

Kudley said it also was difficult to decide when it was time to retire from coaching.

"I always thought that when a certain group of athletes or an individual graduated, I would step down," he said. "It was another group and another four years; there is always another great kid coming along.

"It was also difficult to know that your own children often had an absent dad," he said. "Yet I always tried to be at every one of their events. My daughter, Molly Schneider, who is married to husband, Matt, was a varsity catcher for the softball team, and I missed many of her away games, but would always get away from track practice for a home game."

Kudley added an anecdote about retiring. "When I retired from teaching after 35 years in Aurora in December 2006, I told one of my young assistant coaches that I wanted to keep coaching, but that she needed to assure me that if I ever began to look stupid coaching and 'out of it,' that she needed to let me know so I could step down," he said.

"She jokingly replied that it had already happened several years ago."

Email: mlesko@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4187

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Twitter: Mike Lesko@MikeLesko_RPC

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