Long time UJ cross country coach Jim Clark heads into 44th season
Clark is the longest tenured active coach at UJ.
JAMESTOWN — The University of Jamestown women’s cross-country team is heading into its 44th season and they have only had one head coach during the program's existence.
Jim Clark came to Jamestown and started the women’s cross-country team in 1979 with the help of then men’s cross-country coach Rollie Greeno. Once Clark started the program, he said it was hard to find people wanting to be a part of the new program.
“The first part of it was just getting runners on campus that wanted to run … Obviously, we weren’t great right away or anything like that but I managed to get enough runners for a team at every one of our meets that year,” Clark said. “That was my first goal for that first season. It was a couple years later where we had our first conference meet and we won the first conference meet that we were in.”
The Woodworth, North Dakota, native was not always a running coach. After he graduated from North Dakota State University in 1971, he became a civil engineer for three years.
Once he realized he was in the wrong profession, he went back to school and became a basketball coach at Mary College, which is now the University of Mary. Clark took some of his players to a softball tournament where he was informed of the opening as a basketball coach at Jamestown College.
“So, I made a call and somehow it all just fell into place,” Clark said. “I coached basketball and track my first year here, and then cross-country and basketball and track for the next couple years and then just track and cross-country after that.”
While Clark said he has kept in touch with many of the athletes he’s coached over the years and has great memories with them, there are some that stand out.
“I’ve coached my sister (Deb Hornung), and two of my nieces (Katie Conlon, Maddie Hornung), and my nephew (Andrew Hornung) in both cross-country and track,” Clark said. “So, those stand out … But, just having the opportunity to coach family has been awesome but every kid you coach becomes family right along with them.”
When the Jimmies women's cross country team opened their season at 7:30 p.m. and the men's team opened theirs at 8 p.m. on Sept. 9 at the MSU-Moorhead Twilight Meet, Clark officially kicked off his 44th season as the women's coach and sixth season as the men's coach.
Clark said the challenges with coaching two teams simultaneously is figuring out who is capable of running what distance and what events suit each person the best.
Despite coaching his sister, Clark said he and Hornung never had issues while she was running for him. Clark went so far as to say that Hornung volunteered to run as many races as she possibly could.
Clark said recruiting has changed tremendously over the years. Clark said he has had success recruiting athletes who played other sports in high school who he brings in and turns into good cross-country runners.
“A lot of times my best teams have been people that maybe played volleyball, basketball, and when they got to college they weren’t looking to play college basketball but they did track in the spring and they decided to give cross-country a try,” Clark said. “I’ve had some kids that have become really good cross-country runners and had never done it in high school, maybe a third of the runners that I’ve had have been in that boat.”
Clark said the sport has changed as the importance of facilities and technology has increased.
Clark stepped down from his role as the track and field head coach in 2017. He said he enjoys still seeing the athletes but he doesn’t miss the paperwork and time commitment that it requires.
When he did step down he said the plan was for the men’s cross-country coach at the time, Ed Crawford, to keep his position and for Clark to be the distance coach for women’s track and field and the women’s cross-country coach. However, after Crawford left, the decision was made to consolidate the men’s and women’s cross-country programs.
“It’s all fun, the practices and everything are fun, being around the kids are fun,” Clark said. “I never lost that part of it, there is always something going on, always interesting kids you’re working with, definitely a sport where kids get to know each other really well and years later they get together and talk about. That part of it hasn’t changed, the camaraderie and everything is always there. Some of the teams aren’t as good as some of the other teams but there is always that connection that the kids make with each other.”