They asked the coach about what to eat for breakfast this morning, what the rules say about wearing bobby pins during the meet, and what to do for shoulder pain caused by sleeping all night on a cellphone.
John Kornelson had an answer for all the questions.
Except for the one about the cellphone, he has heard just about every question an athlete can ask a coach before a big track meet.
In fact, if anybody on Kapaun Mount Carmel’s track team has a question during the Kansas state high school championship meet in Wichita, which begins today in Cessna Stadium at Wichita State University, a member of the coaching staff is bound to have an answer.
The staff includes Kornelson, Marvin Estes and Bob Lida.
Combined, they bring about 100 years of track and field experience to the Crusader boys and girls teams, Lida estimated.
“That makes us all real old, doesn’t it?” he said.
Kornelson, 65, is the youngest. He and Estes, 67, coached together at Kapaun in the 1970s. Lida is 75 and still competes in masters sprint events around the world.
It takes some stamina to read all the way through their resumes:
Kornelson won five state titles in six years at Kapaun in the 1970s. He coached at Wichita State for 23 years, producing 15 All-Americans, NCAA 800-meter champion Einars Tupuritis, five conference cross country championship teams and one in track and field. He also helped develop the qualifying process for NCAA regional track meets, and refereed SEC, Big 12 and NCAA meets.
Lida was a Big Eight champ in the 440-yard dash at the University of Kansas in 1959. This year – 53 years after his college days – he set world records in the 60- and 200-meter events in a meet at WSU. Last month he won the 60- , 200- and 400-meter titles in the 75-79 age group at the World Masters Athletics Indoors Championships in Finland. He is in the U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame. He coached at Wichita Collegiate School before coming to Kapaun three years ago.
Estes won a state girls basketball title at Kapaun with a 24-0 record in the 1978-79 season. This year, his first season back at Kapaun after 26 years as an administrator, most recently in Winfield, he won the state girls basketball title again. He and Kornelson coached some of the state championship track teams together at Kapaun in the 1970s, and Estes won more state track titles after Kornelson departed.
Estes called the three of them the Space Cowboys after the movie about aging astronauts.
All are happy to be coaching together.
“It just kind of worked out that way, and, gosh, it’s just been great,” Kornelson said.
Kornelson does workouts for sprinters, distance runners, high jumpers, and hurdlers. Estes works with the throwers. Lida coaches the sprinters.
Kornelson said he is enjoying the experience immensely.
“I think what makes it enjoyable is the kids seem to respond to all of us, and it just makes it a lot of fun,” he said.
Changing times may have brought some new technical innovations to the sport, but the heart of coaching hasn’t changed, the three men said.
“The key to coaching anybody is establishing a relationship and getting connected,” Kornelson said. “That’s no different. Kids are the same.”
Time does catch up to them once in a while. At a recent meet in El Dorado, after a Crusader won the 800-meter event, the winner’s father came down from the stands and reminded Kornelson he had won the same event at the same place under Kornelson 34 years earlier.
Kapaun has a young team this year and doesn’t have a lot of quality depth, Kornelson said. But more kids are turning out now.
“I think we’re getting there,” he said. “We just need to do a good job of coaching them.”
Estes said they are building a program, which is a phrase you don’t often hear from coaches who are old enough to retire.
“Doesn’t matter how old you are, it’s exciting to be in a building program,” he said.
That’s because it’s not about the coaches, Estes said.
“You just get such a thrill out of seeing kids be successful and see them get something for their hard work,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”