Kelly Richards, Inglemoor’s cross country coach, has been named one of 25 national finalists for this year’s Brooks Inspiring Coach Program. The program honors track and field coaches whose encouragement and dedication make a lasting difference in the lives of their athletes.
About a dozen kids and parents from Inglemoor wrote letters to Brooks in efforts to nominate their coach.
“Quite honestly, it doesn’t matter if I win or lose,” Richards said. “It’s cool to be nominated. I don’t think it’s about teams that win championships. It’s about coaches and teams that are inspiring and inclusive and open. That’s the philosophy of the whole team.”
The 45-year-old Richards began running cross country herself at age 16 at Wenatchee High School. By her sophomore year at Pacific Lutheran University, she was a member of that school’s 1988 NAIA National Championship. She will be inducted into PLU’s Hall of Fame this fall.
Since graduating college, she coached track off and on before arriving at Inglemoor six years ago. This past season was her first as head coach of the cross country team. Both her boys and girls squads made it to bi-district, and Amber Rose became the school’s first-ever individual champion.
But when asked what she likes best about coaching, Richards didn’t reference winning.
“I’m more proud that we have so many kids coming out for cross country,” she said of her growing squad of 85 kids. “My philosophy is that everybody is important on the team. From our fastest runner to our most absolute beginner. Everyone is taught that from day one. They’re all important.
“Every year we have a lot of what I would call non-runners and non-athletes turn out for track,” she said. “Inglemoor is a highly academic school, and so we have a lot of kids who want to try a sport and they choose cross country because it doesn’t take a real specific skill level [to make the team].
“So we get a lot of kids who have never done a sport before, and by the end of the season those kids are runners. They go from barely being able to finish the warm-up, to running a full 5K at season’s end and improving their time by four to six minutes.”
Richards has coached some elite athletes, including Rose as well as Kyra Burke, who now runs for Loyola-Marymount University. In fact, Richards makes efforts to stay in touch with her athletes who graduate and move on.
“I have a lot of athletes email me every single year and tell me how they’re doing, or we have lunch over Christmas holidays,” Richards said. “Our team is like a family. We tell the kids that after they graduate they will always be a part of the Inglemoor family. That got started with the coach before me, which was Frank Shuck. He really encouraged that philosophy, that we are like a family and everyone belongs.”
The winner of the Brooks Award will be announced this fall. All 25 national finalists will receive $5,000 in Brooks running shoes, apparel and accessories for their team, $500 for team expenses and a membership in the Brooks Inspire Daily program for 2014.
“The banquet is in Seattle, so I won’t be traveling,” Richards said with a laugh. “Our team is going to use the money to create a team flag.”