Helping student athletes grow inspires cross country coach

Thursday, August 29, 2019
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Jamie Ausk Crisafulli photo

Red Devil cross country coach Tom Temple talks to members of his team during running intervals at Eyer Park Friday. Temple has a long history of coaching at Dawson County High School.

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Jamie Ausk Crisafulli photo

Tom Temple and assistant cross country coach Anita Selvig watch their athletes run at Eyer Park.

Meet the Coach

(Editor’s Note: With fall sports ramping up, we felt it was the perfect time to reintroduce our readers to the people who put in countless hours to prepare DCHS teams and athletes for success on and off the competition field. This is the second in a series about Red Devil fall sports coaches.)

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

He’s been at this a long time now, but Tom Temple, head coach of Dawson County High School’s cross country team, is far from running on empty, once again ready to pass on his hard-charging enthusiasm for the sport to the young men and women under his tutelage in the hope it will carry them the distance and on to victory.

Temple is in his fourth year of coaching the DCHS cross country team, but his history of teaching and coaching at the school goes back way farther than that.

This fall marks Temple’s 24th year of employment at DCHS, where he has worked as a geography teacher turned earth sciences teacher in the classroom and a coach outside of it. He has been a coach for the Red Devils track team every year since he began working at the school, and has been head coach the last two years, and once spent a six-year stint as basketball coach. Before coming back home to teach at DCHS, he had spent six years of teaching and coaching track at a school in South Dakota, giving him a total of 30 years in the profession.

And over all that time, Temple’s enthusiasm for passing on his knowledge and passion to the young people under his charge has not waned.

“You just want the kids to be the best they can be,” Temple said. “You do it for the kids, that’s how I look at it.”

Long before he was a coach “doing it for the kids,” Temple was a star athlete in his own right.

Born and raised in Glendive, he graduated from DCHS in 1986, but not before he and his classmates left their mark at the school. Temple played basketball and ran track during his high school years, and the legacy he and his teammates left behind is somewhat legendary in the annals of DCHS sports history. His senior year both the basketball and the track teams brought home state titles. It was also the only year DCHS has ever been awarded the Great Falls Tribune’s Montana “All Sports Trophy,” a fact which Temple remains very proud of.

During his time running track at DCHS, Temple actually specialized in jumping events — the high jump in particular — rather than running events, noting there was so much talent on that iteration of the Red Devils track team it allowed him to really focus on and specialize in a single event.

“I was primarily a jumper, so I did all of the jumps, and I would also run relays,” he said. “In high school I didn’t do nearly as many events as I did in college. My high school team was so phenomenal I could actually specialize more in high school than I could in college. We had loads of talent.”

During that banner senior year, Temple reached his personal high mark placing in the high jump at state, though he was beat out for the top spot by competition from not only his own team, but his own family, coming in the form of his twin brother, Jim.

His accomplishments on the DCHS track team were enough to earn him an athletic scholarship to run track at Dickinson State University, from where he graduated with a degree in earth sciences and geography, with a minor in German. Temple would later earn his Masters of Science Education degree from Montana State University. After graduating from DSU, he took his first job as a teacher/coach in Mitchell, S.D.

Fast forward 30 years and Temple’s still at it. Speak to him for any amount of time and you understand why — he loves teaching, he really, really loves coaching, and he still relishes the opportunity to shape and mold young people into driven, productive adults.

And for Temple, the opportunity to coach, in particular, is something very special indeed.

“You just see kids in a really positive way because they’re working hard and they want to be there,” Temple said of coaching cross country and track. “That’s the best thing about it, it’s one of those deals where you get to work with students in a different way than inside the classroom. And it kind of makes you keep wanting to do it, because the kids put their best into it, and I appreciate that, the kids wanting to work hard for something.”

As a coach of two different sports — cross country in fall and track in spring — you might think Temple would have some sort of preference for one over the other, but according to him, his enthusiasm for both is on equal footing.

“It’s like you have two kids and you love them both,” he said. “They both have their positives, and I don’t see myself quitting either one first or second. I like them both.”

That being said, while the two sports may seem related — if not altogether similar — to the layman, Temple said there is actually a lot of difference between the two, especially when it comes to the head coach’s job.

“Cross country is kind of a one-trick pony, obviously, so the training is easier to manage,” he said. “Track is way more complex. The head coaching job for track is a lot more complex.”

With track, especially when hosting meets, Temple only has about a million different things to do and stay on top of. With cross country, once the training is over and the meet begins, he can relax a little bit more and enjoy the spectacle.

“Cross country meets are just awesome spectator sports, they really are,” Temple said. “You get to see 20-30 minutes of kids just busting their butts.”

“You just see kids in a really positive way because they’re working hard and they want to be there,”
Tom Temple, DCHS cross country coach

What makes cross country meets so compelling to watch, according to Temple, is how many different emotions you see on display from the kids — joy, despair, resolve, anguish and everything in between.

“You get to witness the full gamut of emotions in a cross country meet,” he said. “You just see all levels of drama at a cross country meet, and I just love it.”

He also loves — and deeply respects — just how difficult a challenge running cross country is.

“Cross country, it’s a total gut-check,” Temple said. “You have to be prepared and there’s no hiding. That’s what’s kind of cool is the performance aspect of it.”

Temple said that as a coach, he drives his kids hard in training. If you’re on his cross country or track teams, you better bring your best effort to practice, because he won’t hesitate to let you know it if you don’t. Lollygagging is not something he tolerates, unless you’re injured, and if you are, you better let him know it.

“It’s because I care,” Temple said of his hard-charging coaching style. “If you’re not doing what I think you can do, you’re either not trying hard enough, or you’re hurt.”

Unfortunately, he can no longer personally set examples for his team by running with them due to a major back injury and subsequent surgery some years ago which put an end to his running days. So these days during training he follows along with the kids running on a bicycle.

“I don’t (run) anymore. When I was first coaching, I did a lot, but I’m in my 50s now and I had that back injury,” Temple said. “I can walk and swim, but I just can’t run like I used to. That’s why I ride a bike.”

Though unable to run anymore himself, Temple still thoroughly enjoys teaching kids how to run competitively. After 30 years of doing it, you might think he would be worn out from it, but he said the opposite is actually true. In fact, he said if there’s any negative aspect about it he can point to, it’s that, especially as he gets older, he has a tendency to get so caught up in coaching he doesn’t realize how much he’s exhausting himself doing it.

“It’s almost energizing to the point that you lose track of time,” Temple said. “And then by the end of the season you’re pretty tired, because you just didn’t realize how much time you put into it.”

But a little end-of-year exhaustion is still worth it, as far as he’s concerned. The opportunity to coach kids, to teach kids, to have a major influence on their lives remains incredibly important to Temple. The relationships he’s forged with kids over 30 years of coaching and teaching are part of what keeps him coming back year after year, and what makes his job so very special to him. He’s even seen some of his former charges run on to professional sports careers, putting a little icing on the cake.

“In 30 years of doing this, I can think of all the kids I’ve worked with,” Temple said. “I’ve worked with kids who are in the NBA. I’ve worked with kids that are in the NFL, and that’s pretty cool.”

Reach Jason Stuart at dcedc@midrivers.com.

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