Jansen named National Girls’ Track and Field Coach of the Year
Rugby cross country and track coach Bill Jansen capped the 37th year of his coaching career with distinction as National Girls Track and Field Coach of the Year for the National High School Athletic Coaches Association (NHSACA).
But Jansen hasn’t finished coaching yet. He hopes to devote many more years to the pursuit he describes as “my true passion.”
“I’m hoping to go as long as I can,” Jansen said. “I hope to stay healthy and can go as long as possible,” he added, grinning and knocking on a wooden desk.
Jansen retired in 2020 from a 29-year teaching career at high schools in Bisbee, Cando and Rugby.
He spent 23 years teaching and coaching at Rugby High School, devoting himself to the Rugby Panther Family.
“I really got into teaching to coach,” he explained. “That was the part I liked about it. Not that I don’t like teaching; I did and I did it for 29 years. You don’t do something for 29 years. You don’t do something 29 years and not like it.”
Jansen said he enjoyed the teaching element of coaching as well. “My love is coaching; the sports side of it – the kids who come out and do those activities,” Jansen said. “I always had at the back of my mind, as soon as I could retire, I’d retire from teaching, have that pension money. I’m not married and don’t have any kids, so I can take care of myself very minimally. So, when I get to that point, I can do what I really love and coach.”
Jansen “got to that point” just over a year ago, and he’s kept on coaching.
After graduating from Jamestown College (now the University of Jamestown) with a degree in business administration, Jansen, the son of a coach, found himself drawn to coaching. He’d helped his father coach, played football and participated in track at Jamestown, but wanted to find a job in the business field.
“I decided, ‘Hey, I’m not doing what I really want to do, coach. ‘For me to do that in North Dakota, I kind of have to probably be a teacher. So, I went to Valley City State and got a teaching degree and my coaching credentials and got my first coaching job up in Bisbee,” Jansen said.
“I grew up working at a swimming pool and teaching kids swimming and loved teaching kids. So, that was the beginning along with the fact my dad was a coach. I saw that every day and it looked very familiar to me and so I knew that was what I would be. I thought, ‘Why am I fighting it?’ Most kids growing up fought against being against what their father was. So, that was my mantra coming out of high school. But I found out coaching’s really where I should be,” Jansen added with a laugh.
Jansen grew up in Tuttle and Valley City, where his father coached both boys’ and girls’ track and field. In 1979, NHSACA named his father, William J. Jansen, the National Girls Track and Field Coach of the Year.
“We were absolutely an athletic family. We were involved in something all year long, basically. Our dad didn’t coach in the winter, but when we moved to Valley City, he coached cross country and track, so we were always around it,” Jansen said.
“So that part of it made it familiar to me as I grew up, too, to get into because I kind of lived it, so things in that area were very familiar to me,” Jansen added.
Teaching also played a role in Jansen’s upbringing – his two aunts taught school.
Jansen’s mother, Margie, who grew up near Tuttle, also involved herself in athletics. She played softball “into her 50s,” Jansen said.
Jansen even coached his mom’s softball team, he recalled.
Jansen has three brothers, two of whom have coached high school sports.
After receiving a teaching degree from Valley City State University, Jansen launched his career in education and coaching, first in Bisbee and Cando, then in Rugby, where he’s stayed for 24 years.
Jansen took over coaching duties for Rugby High’s girls’ track and field team from long-time coach Denise Myhre.
“Denise was one of my dad’s former athletes when he coached in Tuttle in the ’60s,” Jansen said.
“So, I knew Denise somewhat from those times and was very comfortable with what she had done.”
When Myhre’s husband, Gary, left his post as cross country coach, Jansen picked up those duties as well.
Jansen recalled when he took over, “We didn’t have success right away. We’ve always been fairly decent at the region level but at state level, it took us more time to get to where we have been predominantly over the last decade.”
” We’ve had some higher success, winning state championships and that sort of thing over the last decade,” he added. “I’ve been here 23 years, so there are a lot of years we haven’t been tops in the state. We always have a lot of quality kids. But at the state level, you have to have a lot of kids in first, second, third place who can score bigger points. You can have a lot of sixths, sevenths and eighths and not score a whole lot of points. You get a lot of kids on the stands and it’s awesome. That perpetuates your program because kids see that and say, ‘Hey, maybe this might be something for me.'”
“And,” Jansen added, “we have parents that were in track and the more kids we have going out for track and the more that stay around in our area, the better off we are.”
Boys’ track and field coach Scott Grochow would be the first to put Rugby on the national radar when he won the NHSACA title in 2014.
“And now for the second time, to have another coach of the year, that’s just unheard of,” Jansen said.
“I look at our little town, Rugby, North Dakota, with two national coaches, the thing that tells me is we have a lot of community support. We have a lot of good kids that participate in our sport; we have really good assistant coaches – because none of this happens without assistant coaches, and we have administrations that will help to make what we would like to do happen.”
“I tell people when they say something to me about it, ‘It’s partly your award.’ I couldn’t do this myself. I’m not running these events,” Jansen said. “I’m guiding but without kids, without people allowing you to do what you do, you can’t do this. It doesn’t happen. And we’ve had it happen twice. So, evidently, something’s going right with what we’re doing. That’s what I told Steve – we must be doing something right.”
“Steve” is Steve Mueller, the assistant coach who helped two jumpers break records and win state titles in 2021. In addition to Mueller, Dave Schneibel helps the track and field team with shot put and throwing events.
Jansen said he “absolutely” plans to remain a faithful Rugby Panther.
“Why would I leave a spot like this?” Jansen asked. “We’re a big fish in a small pond. We have an established program. Kids come out for track. They support the programs. They’re involved. We have talent in the programs that I can’t see ending. We have good kids. “
“We co-op with some small towns that have good kids,” Jansen added. “We’ve got some kids from Towner that are really good and are really going to be fun to have around for the next five years. In cross country, we have kids from Maddock and this fall, we’ll be getting kids from Leeds.”
Jansen said he was surprised to receive a nomination from the North Dakota Association of High School Coaches for the national award.
Regional nominees gathered at a banquet in Lincoln, Neb. at the University of Nebraska campus for the award, Jansen said.
Nominees represent eight geographic regions and in each region, 20 represent a sport. “That’s about 160 people who they introduce. They list the bios for each one of them and then read the winner’s name and you don’t know until then,” Jansen said.
Jansen said when he found out he had won, emotions rose to the surface for him. He thought of his dad.
“He passed August 10, 2003,” Jansen said. “It was leukemia and he coached through the 2003 track and field season in a limited capacity at the end.”
“My thoughts were of him when they announced the winner and how proud he would have been and how he would have thought it was special to have a father and son receive the same award,” Jansen said.
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