Verhoven ending long ride as Danville track, cross country coach

Published 2:05 pm Friday, June 2, 2023


Contributing Writer

Chris Verhoven is ready to get off the roller coaster, but he has certainly enjoyed the ride.

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Verhoven, the longtime Danville track and field and cross country coach, reached the end of the line Thursday at the KHSAA State Track and Field Championships in Lexington.

He said while there are mixed emotions as the curtain comes down, he is ready to walk away.

“You see these famous athletes — and I’m certainly not comparing myself to them — they say you just know when it’s time to retire or time to give it up, and I guess I’ve known,” Verhoven said. “I think in order for me to continue to love the sport, I’ve got to get out of it.”

Verhoven has coached track and field at Danville for the past 24 years, and he has coached cross country there for 13 seasons. He is retiring from those positions and from that as a special education teacher, ending a 29-year career in education.

“Anybody that’s ever coached anything would describe coaching as an emotional roller coaster, and so when you reflect back on a career I would say it’s been quite the ride,” he said. “Sometimes within the same week you can be so excited about something good that happens and be just as disappointed and stressed out within that same week.”

He said there have been many more ups than downs in a coaching career that he never expected to last this long.

“As ready as I am for it to be over, I look back on all the positives,” Verhoven said.

Verhoven coached track at Danville longer than anyone except perhaps E.G. Plummer, the KHSAA track and cross country coach whose career spanned 29 years.

Verhoven’s Danville boys team won the Class 1A state championship in 2018, and he has coached eight athletes — Antique Ellery, Ross Hempel, Diamond Pace, Alexandria Payne, Meagan Smith, Kaitlin Snapp, Candice Taylor and D’mauriae VanCleave — to individual state championships in track and field or cross country, as well as a handful of winning relay teams.

However, he said he’ll remember more than those successes and the others he has enjoyed.

“We tend to remember the wins and the good parts, but I think the older I get I’ll look back at the hopeful impact that you had on somebody’s life, the concept of throwing the rock and the ripple effect,” he said. “You didn’t see it at the time, but maybe something you said, something you did motivated a kid, and it carried over to them doing their job of how they parented.

“Maybe you had a positive influence on them and it has nothing to do with, ‘Oh, I taught them how to do hurdles or a handoff.”

He said that’s something he wouldn’t have realized in his younger days.

“When you first start coaching it’s about yourself, it’s about ego. I need to be a good coach: Me, me, me. The longer you do it, you realize maybe it has absolutely nothing to do with the sport at all,” Verhoven said.

“Especially when you’re a high school coach, you start looking back on relationships, kids that invite you to their weddings, kids that you still keep in touch with, kids that are your assistant coaches that now have kids of their own.”

Verhoven said he also has a greater appreciation for those who coached him as an athlete and mentored him as a young coach.

One of those mentors was Plummer, who was several years removed from coaching by the time Verhoven took over the boys track program but who still took an active interest in the program and the sport.

“He was such a mentor, and he still is. How many times have I eaten lunch with him at the bowling alley and listened to his advice?” Verhoven said.

Verhoven coached the Danville boys and Sadie Gambrel coached the girls team for several seasons. Gambrel has moved on to officiating, and Verhoven said he’ll probably do the same thing.

“Sadie is trying to get me to officiate. She said it’s so different when you show up, you do your job and you go home,” he said. “I’ve already worked a couple of Centre (College) meets, and I have seen that perspective. I think I’ll renew my love for the sport.”