Growing up in Wichita, Mike Heimerman always thought the life he would lead, ultimately, would be similar to his father, James.
“He had a masonry business and I always thought that’s where I’d end up, working with him,” Heimerman said. “We didn’t have a ton of money, but his business made it so we never went without. If it was good enough for him, it was going to be good enough for me. And if it wasn’t that, maybe I’d get into the industrial arts ... at the most be a shop teacher.”
Fate had other plans.
Last month, the Campus High and Hutchinson Community College product was named the track and field coach at Division I Northwestern (La.) State, where he’s been the women’s track and field coach the last six seasons. Heimerman, who won a Southland Conference shot put title for Northwestern State in 1996, will oversee six of the school’s 14 Division I programs in his new role. Men’s and women’s cross country also fall under his umbrella.
Heimerman takes over for Leon Johnson, his college coach, who retired after 31 years.
“I’d like to think being an alum played a huge part (in getting the job),” Heimerman said. “I’m someone who knows the program, knows the region, knows the conference and takes pride in the university. We’re a small school. We like to say we’re a mid-major, but we’re smaller than that.”
Higher education wasn’t always a definite plan for Heimerman. After he graduated from Campus in 1992, he wasn’t even sure he wanted to go to college, but prodding from his mother, Beverly, and Hutchinson coach Pat Becker pushed him in the right direction. He was an All-America thrower for the Blue Dragons and transferred to Northwestern, in Natchitoches, La., in the spring of 1995.
He never left.
“My big brother, Chris, got all the brains, and my little sister, Michelle, she’s the athlete,” Heimerman said. “I always like to say I got just a little bit of both. I really wasn’t a great thrower, but I could do it good enough, and I didn’t like to lose. I’d study the sport and the technique to give myself any advantage I could.”
Johnson saw that and, after Heimerman’s eligibility was up, offered him the chance to complete his Bachelor’s degree.
“I was on the six-year plan,” Heimerman said, laughing. “So when I was done, (Johnson) told me they could keep me on scholarship if I would coach the throwers. And after I was done with that, he was like, ‘Why don’t you just stay and go on ahead and get your Master’s?’
“I’ve had a pretty fortunate life in that regard. I’ve paid my dues as an assistant and been able to get an education. I don’t take any of it for granted, that’s for sure.”
Heimerman was promoted to women’s coach six years ago and has remained as the throws coach for both men and women in that time, coaching 11 of the school’s last 16 All-Americans in track and field, including 2011 NCAA women’s discus champion Trecey Rew-Hoover.
James died five years ago, and while Heimerman still comes back to visit family in Wichita once or twice a year, Heimerman, 39, is now a true Southerner — he even married a runnerup for Miss Louisiana, Farrah Reyna.
“People around here still consider Kansas as ‘the North,’ which is funny because back home, obviously, we call it the Midwest ... but here, anything above Oklahoma or Arkansas is the North,” Heimerman said. “And (Natchitoches) is home for me, but I still feel attached to Wichita. My mom has had season tickets for Wichita State basketball since forever and still has them, and the WSU track program that (Steve) Rainbolt runs is something I want to model our program after.”
So it’s a different life than he had planned, but one he wouldn’t trade for anything.
“This coaching thing, it kind of sunk its claws into me and never let go,” Heimerman said. “And now I’m just excited about the future, about the possibility of what we can do here.”