Donovan Roberts Witmer '97
Coaches score high as role models
by Rebecca Jekel
On and off the court, field, and track, coaches impart more than game skills to
their team members, often playing a significant role in preparing student-athletes for success beyond the sports arena. In the following pages, six professional coaches, who are either Messiah College alumni or employees, share what they’ve learned from their sports experiences and what they hope to pass on to their students—
for love of the game and as lessons for life.
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When Dale Fogelsanger ’87 ran track for Messiah College more than two decades ago, his goal was straightforward and specific: to methodically work his way up through Messiah’s top-ten times for the 400-meter run. As a first-year student, he began to climb up the ranks of Messiah’s fastest, and, in his senior year, he joyfully claimed the College’s 400-meter record during the 1987 Mid-Atlantic Conference preliminary heats.
Seven years later, in 1994, Fogelsanger was back at Messiah, but this time as adjunct professor of natural sciences and, to his delight, as coach of the College’s track and field and cross country teams for both men and women. “My success as an athlete is partly what gave me the confidence and desire to be a coach,” reflects Fogelsanger. “I was a very average runner in high school. I grew into success under the tutelage of Doug Miller,” who coached track and field at Messiah from 1979 until 1994 and is currently wellness director and professor of health and exercise science at the College.
To coach is to teach, mentor, and model
As a student-athlete studying biology and education at Messiah, Fogelsanger says his interests in running and science were nurtured by Miller, an exercise physiology doctoral student at the time, who freely shared his technical knowledge with his team. As his own mentor did, Fogelsanger now incorporates science into his coaching role: “I teach in terms of the technique and exercise physiology associated with the different track and field events. Athletes like that technical input,” he says, adding that he tries to describe clearly, in terms his athletes will understand, the learned movements and correct angles involved in events such as the high jump, pole vault, and discus throw.
“We in physical education and in athletics have the privilege of engaging the body, the mind, and the emotions,” says Lester Zook ’82, professor of physical education and recreation at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) in Virginia and, from 1988 to 2008, EMU’s men’s and women’s head cross country coach. “It’s a more holistic way of teaching and, therefore, has the potential to be much more influential.”
Zook, who holds a Ed.D. in higher education administration, conducts ongoing research in his academic field while continuing to run competitively. “I try to model for students that it’s possible to take your academics seriously and to be a serious athlete. I realize they’re watching me to see if it’s really possible to do what I’m telling them I want them to do.”
Mentoring relationships grow naturally from coaches’ availability to student-athletes. They need to know where they can come for help, explains Nancy Luley, aquatic director and head coach of Messiah’s new men’s and women’s varsity swimming teams. She says students sometimes stop by her office looking for inspiration to tackle their course work. Recently, a student who was having trouble starting a paper “actually came back and let me know he had done just what we talked about.” He didn’t write the paper in Luley’s office, she says, but he could have. “There’s actually a desk in here I offer to students.”