Measuring success isn’t as easy as it might seem

Published 11:36 am Tuesday, May 2, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Advocate-Messenger approached area high school spring sports coaches about writing a column for publication. This one from Danville track coach Chris Verhoven is the sixth of 10 stories to appear in the paper each Tuesday through the end of May.

How do you measure success? Statistics are good. It is easy to measure a distance, time a race, count the number of victories, but can you truly quantify success?

In Talladega Nights, Ricky Bobby’s dad is famous for saying, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” Sounds pretty good to me. Measure a player or a coach by his victories. No one remembers second place, right? You may as well be last if you don’t win, right?

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I’m not quite sure of that.

Let me tell you about three very special people to me — Ross Hempel, Meagan Smith and Anrique Ellery. They are all multiple state champions. They are all Danville Admirals to the core. And I coached them.

Ross began running track in the seventh grade. He remains one of three middle school boys I have ever let run up on the high school team. By the time he graduated, he won three consecutive 800-meter run state championships, was the anchor on back-to-back state championship 4×400 relays, and broke the school record in several events. He taught me so much about being a coach, how to motivate people.

Ross graduated from the University of Kentucky then went on and graduated from the University of Louisville Medical School. I talked with Ross a few days ago, and he told me that he is starting his residency program in Tampa, Florida in surgery.

We have continued to talk over the years and it is no surprise to see what an outstanding adult he has become. I never doubted he would be successful in life. But how do you measure that?

Meagan ran both track and cross country for me. I was very new to cross country when this incredible soul came across my path. Despite not knowing the nuances of cross country, she taught me about hard work, about believing in the plan, and how you can achieve victory with class and dignity. She won the 1600 and 3200 in track, as well as being the state runner-up in those two events, and became a back-to-back individual state champion in cross country.

She took her incredible athletic talents — along with her equally impressive academics — to Murray State University. She is currently a junior and has made second-team All-OVC.

Like Ross, I have kept up with her, mostly through texts, and she still lets me know every time she PR’s. Believe me, that happens a lot. It is no surprise to see what an outstanding adult she has become. I never doubted she would be successful in life. But how do you measure that?

Anrique was ten years old when we met. I helped coach him in pee-wee football. I knew way back then that he had a special talent. I tried unsuccessfully for years to get him to run track and try hurdles.

Anrique is super busy and involved in a million things at all times. He finally succumbed to my pressure to run and eventually ended up a two-time state champion in the 300 hurdles and placed in multiple other events at state, including being the anchor of the school-record, state runner-up 4×100 relay his senior year.

Those who saw him fall at the state meet and still get up and win know what determination is all about. He taught me that.

Anrique ran his freshman year at Valparasio University in Indiana, and after a coaching change, has transferred to the University of Kentucky. I continue to talk to him on the phone, and he has even made time to come to practice to help out with the hurdlers this season. It is no surprise to see what an outstanding adult he has become. I never doubted he would be successful in life. But how do you measure that?

What do these three have in common? Of course they all ran track and cross country at Danville High School. They were all state champions multiple times. But most importantly, they were great human beings. They persevered. They succeeded. They continue to succeed. How do you measure the impact they have had on our program? How has the ripple effect of their time here affected me as a coach?

You can’t possibly measure that can you?

This brings me to one last person to talk about, my son, Cole. He was born in 1998. I began coaching in 2000. He has literally been a part of the program his entire life. He has grown up on the track.

He has experienced everything along the way. He has been the team mascot, the cute little “runner” to post results, the young kid who looked up to all those state champions, and is now a senior and finishing up a four-year career on the track team. He has also begrudgingly been a member of the cross country team for four years. Not one person can claim to have been more involved in the Danville track and cross country program over the last 18 years.

He has never won a state championship and hasn’t even begun his life in college yet. However, he has truly taught me the most about life. He inspires me to do my best. He makes me work hard to constantly strive for something more than victories. He makes me understand that love is not something that can be measured. I cannot express or quantify what he means to me. His impact will last way beyond sports.

Is that success? I sure think so.

I am not surprised to see what an outstanding adult he is becoming. I have no doubt he will be successful in life.

Chris Verhoven is in his 17th season as track and field coach at Danville. The Admirals host an All-Comers meet this evening and the Central Kentucky Conference Meet on Friday. They will also host the Class 2A Region 5 meet on May 13.