Obermann reflects on long, successful coaching career
Wed, 11/27/2019 - 9:14am admin
Nate Troy Sports Editor
CRESCO - After 38 years of coaching a myriad number of teams in a variety of sports at two different high schools, Jim Obermann hung up his coaching whistle and clipboard for the final time as a coach on Nov. 2 at the 2019 Iowa State Cross Country Meet in Fort Dodge.
While the 2019 season marked Obermann’s final year of coaching the Crestwood girls’ and boys’ cross country teams, if you only know Jim as Crestwood’s cross country coach since 2004, you only know a fraction of his story. Read on and your sports editor will fill you in on the rest of Jim’s storied and successful coaching career. Stick around - it will be worth your while.
In 1982, Obermann graduated from Loras College in Dubuque with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English as well as his coaching endorsement. While his goal was to get a job teaching, he never ruled out coaching.
“You never know how things will play out,” Obermann said. “I majored in English and decided to become a teacher. Back then (in 1982), if you could coach, that would help you get a job. Before I graduated from Loras, I decided to get my coaching endorsement.
“I’ve always loved sports and participating in sports. I didn’t know exactly what coaching could lead me to. Soon after graduation, I started teaching and coaching at Meservey-Thornton High School (in the fall of 1982) and I quickly realized, ‘Man, I like coaching!’ I enjoyed teaching as well and I think you are always a teacher first. Good coaching is good teaching. I don’t think you can be a good coach without being a good teacher first.”
Obermann taught English and coached a handful of teams at Meservey-Thornton from 1982 to 1988. In the spring of 1988, the high school closed and the district became a part of West Fork High School in Sheffield.
“When you are at a small school (like Meservey-Thornton) you will get a lot of opportunities to coach because there is a need for that,” Obermann said. “When I was at M-T, it was not uncommon to coach for four seasons (in a row during the school year).
“My first year (at M-T), I was an assistant football coach, an assistant basketball coach and I was the head baseball coach. During my second year, I was coaching the Junior High volleyball team. After a couple years, I was the head girls’ basketball coach, the head track coach and the head baseball coach as well. After being at M-T for about three years, I was the head coach of three sports. When you are at a small school, that’s the way it is. My wife tells me that I could just never say no.
“I loved the diversity of coaching different sports. I’m a firm believer in students being multi-sport athletes because I was a multi-sport coach. You don’t see that much anymore. I developed a great passion for coaching in general. I’ve coached basketball and track most of my life and I have a tremendous passion for those sports.
“Coaching cross country came later in my career but I’ve enjoyed that, too. I love baseball even though I coached it for only six years at M-T. I’ve been a baseball umpire for 20 years. In recent years, my passion for baseball has been manifested through working as an umpire, which I will continue to do,” Obermann said.
He noted that his love of coaching was born while he was at Meservey-Thornton.
“In order to be a good coach, you have to have a passion for it,” Obermann said. “Coaching is hard work and it requires you to work long hours. I can’t thank the community of Meservey-Thornton enough because that’s where I got my start (as a coach). I learned a lot about coaching when I was there. Some of the best friends I have in the world are still there.”
Coming to Crestwood
Obermann noted that when Meservey-Thornton High School closed in 1988, he had the option of continuing to coach and teach at the Junior High, but he decided to move on and continue to coach high school sports.
“When I left Meservey-Thornton, that was around the same time I got married,” Obermann said. “My wife, Deb, and I decided to move to Cresco. I had a good friend who had taught here and it’s a nice community. Obviously, Crestwood was a move up in school-size and it’s a school with a good reputation.
“I started at Crestwood (in 1988) teaching English and I took the head girls’ basketball coaching job as well as the assistant girls’ track position. In some ways, my coaching load at Crestwood during the 1988-89 school year wasn’t as heavy as it was for me at Meservey-Thornton.
“When I started as the basketball coach during the 1988-89 year, I had taken over a program that had not had much success (prior to 1988). I always had the belief that if you work harder than anyone else and learn as much as you can, you will succeed. Eventually, we became a powerful girls’ basketball program,” Obermann said.
The coach noted that coaching girls’ basketball in the 1980s and early 1990s was different because many smaller schools, including Crestwood, played the six-on-six game, which was fazed out after the conclusion of the 1992-93 season.
“When you are guy coaching girls’ basketball in the 1980s, you needed to learn the six-on-six game,” Obermann said. “(Six-on-six) was a great game. There’s no doubt about that. When we switched to five-on-five during the 1993-94 season, it was time for a change.
“There was a learning curve (in 1993) but we attacked the game with great excitement and enthusiasm to learn the five-on-five game. Our girls did an outstanding job. My assisant coach at the time, Virgil Hovden, and I both did a great job of attacking the transition to five-on-five and it was good for our kids. I knew how to coach basketball but there was still a lot I needed to learn about coaching girls’ five-on-five basketball. We also had a lot of support from the parents and the administration (during the transition).
“A couple years later in 1995, we made it to the State Tournament. In many ways our girls’ basketball program has not looked back since then. I think Crestwood is known for its solid girls’ basketball teams, which is a credit to the kids in the early 1990s who helped us transition from a school with no girls’ basketball tradition to a school that is known for its tradition now. The coaches who have followed me (Doug Sickles and Dale Dennler) have kept our tradition strong,” Obermann said.
Adding more duties
In the spring of 1997, Obermann took on another challenge when he became the head coach of the girls’ track team.
“I had been an assistant track coach a few years earlier under head coach Jon Westling, who was a great mentor to me,” Obermann said. “I learned a lot from Jon. When I was at Meservey-Thornton, I was the head girls’ track coach for five years, so I did have some experience.
“When the track coaching position opened up in 1997, I decided to take it because I’ve always loved track. At the time, our numbers (of students out for the team) was not good, but over the years, we’ve built that up,” Obermann said.
He also coached the Crestwood boys’ and girls’ cross country teams from 1991 to 1994 and from 2004 until 2019. In addition to cross country, he coached Junior High and ninth grade boys’ basketball for a few seasons in the 2000s.
“I enjoyed coaching cross country (in the early 1990s) but I got out of it because my kids (Lauren and Ben) were little at the time and I wanted to leave a little more time for my family,” Obermann said. “When you are a coach, your family sacrifices a lot. Not only are you a parent and a spouse but you are also, in many ways, a parent to all of the kids you coach.
“I was fortunate to always have the support of my family. My wife allowed me to pursue all these coaching passions and was supportive. My kids were supportive, too. My son, Ben, went scouting with me as an elementary student and he’d keep statistics,” Obermann said.
Although he has always maintained a healthy love of coaching, Obermann added another important job to his schedule when he served as Crestwood Athletic Director from 2009 to 2014.
“Being the athletic director for five years was a challenge because I was also teaching and coaching track and cross country at the time,” Obermann said. “But I really liked it. It was hard work but I was used to that. I also got some tremendous help from my wife because there were many times she took tickets at games and helped out how-ever she could.
“It was a unique hat to wear (being the athletic director). I was a supporter of our coaches but I was also the guy who was going to evaluate them. One reason I was able to serve all those duties (coaching, teaching and athletic director) was because I was organized. When you are the athletic director, there are a lot of days that you are at school from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., which comes with the territory. I really enjoyed my five years as athletic director,” the coach said.
Obermann noted that he didn’t mind taking on additional duties while he was teaching because he considers himself an “old-school educator,” which means he pitched in wherever he was needed.
“When I was at Meservey-Thornton, in addition to coaching and teaching, I helped to direct school plays,” Obermann said. “I helped out because I thought, ‘Who else is going to do it?’ I wouldn’t consider myself a great play director, but those are the things you do to help.
“My philosophy when I signed on to become a teacher was this - you are a part of the whole program. It’s not just teaching from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and then you’re gone. If you’re going to jump into teaching as just a job, you are not going to last.
“My approach was that I was never afraid to try something new. Obviously there are sacrifices you have to make (when taking on many duties). You sacrifice vacations, holidays and you sacrifice sleep. I don’t know many coaches who can go home and put everything behind them. It takes some time to unwind.
“Also to be in sports for a long time, you have to have good kids. I was fortunate in both communities that I’ve lived in (Meservey-Thornton and Crestwood). Both schools were supportive of me. Both were hard-working, blue-collar towns, which made them a great place to coach.
“The kids I’ve coached have done what I’ve asked of them and the parents have been supportive. As long as you have kids that are willing to work, you can convey your passion to them,” Obermann said.
Although none of Obermann’s squads brought a State Championship trophy home, that does not diminish in any way his coaching accomplishments. Some of those accolades include: taking three girls’ basketball teams to State (1995, 1997 and 2003), guiding dozens of girls to the State Track Meet as well as finishing second in the team standings in 2018 and coaching many individuals and three girls’ teams (2012, 2017, 2018) to the State Cross Country Meet.
“My goal as a coach was for our kids to be the best we could be,” Obermann said. “Wherever you ended up at the end of the season was probably what you deserved. What drove me was my competitiveness. I’m very competitive but I think you have to be when you’re a coach.
“Being a coach is mainly about maximizing the abilities (of the students) and doing the best you can. Sometimes in basketball, you have a one-win season and other times you have a 20-win season. Sometimes in cross country, it’s about getting your personal record and other times it’s about making it to State. It’s really about doing everything you can to be your best because then you have no regrets.
“Looking back on my coaching career, I have few regrets. We (as a coaching staff) did the best we could and we worked hard. I can’t imagine working any harder or caring any more. If you care and work hard, you will be content.
“I stepped away from coaching girls’ basketball in 2003 because I wanted to see my kids play. It’s not easy to step away from a strong program, but it was more important to spend time with my kids. When you put a lot of time into something like coaching, it is hard to step away because it’s kind of like building a house from scratch and then selling it.
“As I look back on my coaching career, I know that with every program that I’ve been associated with, I’ve left it in better shape then I found it, which includes the athletic director position. When you do that, it’s a real sense of satisfaction and contentment," Obermann said.