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John Crooke, adjunct professor of physical education, is Wesleyan's cross country and distance track coach.
 
Posted 12.19.05

Coach Keeps Wesleyan Runners on Track

Q: How many years have you been the cross country coach and distance track coach at Wesleyan?

A: I just finished my 6th fall at Wesleyan.

Q: What have been the cross country teams' key meets of the year?

A: The New England Regional meet was the major highlight for both menís and womenís teams. The women placed 7th in the toughest region in the country and the men placed 2nd to qualify as a team to the National Championships. The men ended up placing 14th at nationals. The men placed four runners on the All New England regional team and Owen Kiely was the New England Champion. Owen Kiely and Ellen Davis both attained All-America status by virtue of their finish at the National Championships.

Q: It's probably not an understatement to say most people don't understand cross country. It's not just going out and running, is it?

A: Cross country is a simple sport. The first person to the finish line wins. Itís not running, it is racing. There is a big difference. I am always telling my team that time doesnít matter, place does. Cross country is a team sport. Most people think of it as an individual sport. A team is made up of seven runners. The first five runners score for the team. Each runner gets points based on his or her finish. If you place 5th, your team gets five points and if you place 27th, your team gets 27 points. You add up the points for your first five runners. The team with the lowest point total wins.

Q: When did you start running, and for what schools/teams?

A: I started running the summer before my freshman year in high school. I attended St. Anthonyís High School in Smithtown, Long Island. I then went onto run at St. Josephís University in Philadelphia. I also ran competitively after college for about six years.

Q: What are your degrees in, and why did you decide to coach for a living?

A: I have a bachelorís of science in management and a masterís of science in administration with a concentration in sport and athletic administration. I never really thought about coaching during or just after college. I was focused on my running and I thought I might open a running store after my competitive days were over. Then one day I saw an ad in a local paper for an assistant track coach. I thought it might be interesting so I gave the school a call. The athletic director ended up offering me the head coaching job. The rest they say is history. I realized very early on that coaching was what I wanted to do for the foreseeable future.

Q: Do you teach classes in addition to coaching?

A: Yes. I teach running for fitness in the fall and spring and I teach intro to strength training in the winter.

Q: What specific training methods do you use for your runners?

A: The training methods I use are an amalgamation of the training methods that my coaches used and what I found to work for me personally. All workouts are tailored to each athlete. We try to keep the athletes in small training groups.

Q: Is it easier to evaluate a prospect in cross country verses a prospect in a sport like ice hockey or baseball since it has the element of time for a distance which is a consistent measure?

A: I am not sure if it is easier or should I say more effective. I would like to see a prospect race if I had the time and resources. I have no time to watch athletes because I am in season all year. Cross country courses vary greatly so I really look at a prospect's track times to get an idea of the talent level.

Q: Is it difficult being a three-season coach since you handle the distance runners in both indoor and outdoor track as well as cross country?

A: It is difficult because I am coaching both the men and the women all year. I do get emotionally tired by the end of the year. But I have been able to recharge the battery every summer.

Q: How many of your athletes run all three seasons?

A: Almost all of my athletes run all three seasons. The athletes need to train year round to be successful at the national level.

Q: What gives you the greatest satisfaction after a meet?

A: Running to our potential.

Q: How would you rate NESCAC cross country at the national level?

A: On the womenís side it is without question the toughest conference in the country. The national team champion and runner up have come from the NESCAC the past five seasons. This fall was the first time in six years that the national champion was not a NESCAC school. Last fall our womenís team placed 5th in the NESCAC, 5th in the New England region and 14th in the country. The menís side is very strong too but it is not the strongest in the country. I would say it is in the top three or four of the toughest conferences in the country.

Q: How many miles do you personally run a week? Do you participate in any local races?

A: I run about 35 miles a week. I run with the team about three days a week. I donít do any road racing. My competitive fire is quenched by my coaching.

Q: What are your hobbies and interests aside from running?

A: I have an old house that I am fixing up. I spend most of the summer working on it. When I am not coaching or working on the house I like to read and spend time with friends and family. I am also a pretty big Yankee fan.

Q: Does your family live around here?

A: I have three brothers and a sister. I have a brother and sister living in Connecticut. I get to see them more often than the rest of my family who live in the Philadelphia suburbs.

Q: Is it true you and George Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees, have a hot-line connection?

A: Yes it is true, but George never seems to listen to me. I guess thatís because he is a Williams guy.
 

By Olivia Bartlett, The Wesleyan Connection editor