It’s a Wonderful Track Life

Chris Steele
Don Fredericks speaks during the Maple Leafs welcome home ceremony in Geneseo following their runner-up finish in the IHSA Class 2A State Track Meet.

Don Fredericks calls himself the figurehead of Geneseo’s track success.

The long-time Geneseo track and cross country coach minimizes his role and attributes it all to his numerous assistants and talented athletes.

“I’m being called the coach of the year, but the reality is our program is being recognized for being very special,” Fredericks said. “We accomplished something really extraordinary last spring.”

Yet, those around the Geneseo track program know Fredericks is the unseen hand pulling the strings.

Which is why Fredericks will be honored by the Illinois Track and Cross Country Coaches Association as the Class 2A Coach of the Year on Friday, Jan. 15.

With Geneseo’s runner-up finish at the Class 2A State Track Meet, Fredericks earned an automatic nomination for the award.

With the highest finish in school history, the resume the Maple Leafs’ coach put together this season made him an undeniable choice.

In the twilight of his career, Fredericks said one of the things he dreamt of was holding a state trophy when he started.

As the years wore on he thought it might remain just that – a dream.

“I thought that day had passed me by,” Fredericks said. “I didn’t think it was going to be a reality.”

Geneseo scored points in eight different events at the state meet falling six points shy of upsetting perennial track powerhouse Cahokia for the championship.

Geneseo’s Arthur Atwell became the fourth boys’ track athlete to earn a state championship in Geneseo history winning the pole vault by clearing 15’0”.

Atwell thinks he would never have achieved what he did without Fredericks’ connections and support.

“At one point, I couldn’t afford to get new running shoes,” Atwell said. “He went and got them for me.”

After seeing Atwell’s potential, Fredericks used his connections to bring in vaulting coaches Wes Jackson and Steve Sulfridge to help bring out the best in Atwell.

On the fence about trying out for the track team, Fredericks talked to Atwell personally after hearing about his interest in vaulting.

Atwell said it’s not uncommon for Fredericks to allow athletes to try new events or find a spot for them to flourish.

“If you never try it, you are never going to know,” Fredericks said. “That’s the thing I love about track, there are 18 different events, and there is something for everyone to try.”

Fredericks loves looking at the stats and measuring athletes’ progress.

After every meet, Fredericks hands out Tootsie Rolls to every athlete who reached a personal record.

Atwell said he couldn’t remember a time Fredericks forgot to mention the outcome of every athlete who competed.

“If one of our JV guys PR’d by an inch in the long jump,” Atwell said, “He would remember and tell everybody.”

So while athletes like Atwell were fighting to become state champions, others on the team were just competing to get their Tootsie Rolls.

“Every single member of the team matters,” Fredericks said. “Every single member affected the team. The ones who scored at state were our big guns, but even the little guns who never scored a point in a single meet still mattered.”

Fredericks heaps all the program’s success on his assistants.

Fredericks said Matthew Deets is a coach he can rely on for anything he needs.

Fredericks offered thanks to Philip Moe who works with the middle-distance runners, and Shane Reschke who coaches the jumpers and sprinters.

He praised Wes Vaden for his work with the throwers, and John Davis for his contributions to the strength and conditioning program.

Fredericks said everything starts with Geneseo Middle School track/cross country Coach Todd Ehlert, and he wanted to thank mentor Mel Snook.

Most of all he wanted to recognize the support of his wife, Tessie Fredericks.

“She’s there for everything,” Fredericks said. “She’s a 100 percent behind everything I’m trying to do. It’s so special to be married to someone who is not threatened or resentful of the amount of time it takes to coach.”

A few years removed from retirement, Fredericks has never felt like coaching was a job.

“It’s every part of who I am,” Fredericks said. “It will be a challenge for me, but I have two more seasons of track left and I’m going to enjoy them to the max.”

For now, he can’t contain his excitement for the upcoming track season.

“Whenever you see barriers get broken down, you didn’t think you could get through, it’s not as hard the second time,” Fredericks said. “It would be cool for us to go down there and finish in the top 10 again. Maybe higher — maybe a lot higher, but we have to wait and see.”