Coach with the most

Published 10:04 am Friday, November 2, 2012

Jim Haney yells at Chrissy Monson as she trains Thursday for the state cross country tournament that will take place in Norfield on Saturday. -- randi Hagen/Albert Lea Tribune

He barks. They listen.

Jim Haney, the social studies teacher at Albert Lea High School, is known for the bonds he creates with students in and out of the classroom.

Jim Haney high fives Emma Behling and Morgan Haney after they finished training with Chrissy Monson Thursday before she heads to the state cross country tournament on Saturday.

He gives students “goofy little nicknames” and does what he calls “barking” to keep them interested and attentive to their tasks at hand.

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“If I’m not having fun, the kids aren’t going to have fun,” Haney said. “The kids know that you’re putting yourself on the line every single day and they’ll buy into that as long as they feel like they’re being heard and cared for.”

Last week Haney was recognized as the Section 1AA Coach of the Year for his role as the ALHS head cross country coach.

It wasn’t the first award he’s been recognized with and it probably won’t be the last. Haney was also named 2012 Minnesota History Teacher of the Year and in 2004 was named District 241 Teacher of the Year. He turns 49 Monday.

“I don’t know if that makes a difference in people’s lives, but it’s nice to be recognized,” Haney said.

He’s been teaching for 26 years with all but three being in Albert Lea. His career in cross country started at Mandan High School in North Dakota where in 1981 he was captain of the team that became state champion.

“I’m really proud of that,” Haney said.

Before becoming the head cross country coach at ALHS, Haney dabbled in coaching basketball and football.

He landed a position coaching cross country when Chris Chalmers, the head coach at ALHS at the time, was looking for an assistant. Haney believes he took over as head coach in 2002.

Since then, he has had success in growing the program from 17 kids in 2002 to somewhere in the low 40s now. He’s never taken a team to the state tournament, but he has taken two individual competitors — Ethan Marquardt, a 2008 graduate who participated his last two years of high school and current senior, Chrissy Monson, who will be competing at the tournament for the fifth year in a row Saturday in Northfield.

Haney said all he can do is push her to run faster physically and also push her mentally toward achieving her goals.

That’s where the “barking” comes in handy.

In cross country, there aren’t time outs for the coach to talk to their player and tell them how to close out their race so Haney stands on the sidelines and yells at the athletes.

“They respond to that, they really do,” Haney said.

He said assistant coach Lon Nelson, volunteer coach Bryce Gaudian and parents do the same thing at other points along the race.

“I think it’s really helped,” Haney said. “You don’t feel alone. To run is not a fun thing to do — it hurts. To know that someone is encouraging you to make you that go that extra step or go a little bit faster is important.”

Haney said there are three people that have shaped who he is as a coach and teacher including his high school social studies teacher and speech coach Pat Pins, retired Albert Lea teacher Hank Guse and Chalmers, who is now the director of athletics and Community Ed.

As a teacher, Haney’s goal is make history understandable for the students.

“Every kid should be able to taste, touch, feel and smell history,” Haney said. “History is a huge story. It only happened one way and it can’t change like math. It’s just a huge story and I’m a storyteller.”

As a coach, Haney wants to continue to grow the cross country program and eventually see a team get to state.

As far as Monson goes, he’s just excited to see her run for the last time in her high school career.

“She’s going to give her best effort,” Haney said. “She’s been such a marvelous runner for me for so many years, no matter what happens it’s still going to be magnificent to see her run her last race.”