Coach Close-Up: Clay Calkins Continues Cross Country Success

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It’s never easy to follow up a great act. Clay Calkins has proved himself most adept in filling Elmore Banton’s footwear, however, since taking over for Banton as Ohio University’s head cross country coach in June 2003.

Calkins came to Ohio from Hillsdale (Mich.) College, where as a track and field coach he guided several student-athletes to top 10 finishes in both throws and jumps. From there, Calkins became an assistant coach to Elmore Banton at Ohio University, eventually taking over when Banton stepped down.

Calkins grew up in East Sparta, Ohio, where he competed in the state high school championship in the 110-meter hurdles. He continued this excellence into his career at Malone College, where he was a four-year decathlete. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in physical education from Malone, Calkins began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Ohio University. After receiving his master’s degree in athletic administration from Ohio in 1998, Calkins took his first job as a head coach at Hillsdale, developing a markedly positive philosophy.

“I try to be positive,” Calkins says. “Negativity doesn’t really help anybody, so we try to look at the glass half full.”

Despite this positive outlook, Calkins is also unashamedly businesslike about what results he expects from his teams. “Team success is winning,” Calkins explains. “The caliber of athletes it takes to be successful, you need the top athletes in the country to compete in this conference.”

Calkins has proved himself capable in molding not only young athletes, but young minds as well. Several times over the course of his career at Ohio he has had athletes honored as academic All-Americans. “We really look at APR, graduation rates, and GPA,” says Calkins on what it means to be the coach of both outstanding athletes and outstanding students. “It’s a collective whole, and we try to recruit the entire academic/athletic package.”

Both the men and women’s teams have been improving steadily over the course of Calkins’ tenure at Ohio, culminating in this, his ninth year as head coach.

“This is the most competitive season we’ve had in my coaching career here,” Calkins says. “(The runners) have really stepped up to the challenge that we’ve laid in front of them.”

The Bobcats will compete Saturday afternoon at the MAC championships in Buffalo, and Coach Calkins views both the men’s and the women’s chances optimistically, continuing to push his athletes to be the best that they can be. “As a coach, we’re trying to prepare them both mentally and physically so that they don’t falter on their given days,” says Calkins. “This has been a successful program, one of the most successful at the university, and we want to continue that success on both the men and women’s side, year in and year out. That’s our goal as coaches, and we want it to be the goal of the kids too.”