John Curtis Daily Union Sports Editor
Shelbyville Daily Union
---- — Coach Kevin Kramer took over the cross country program when he first came to Shelbyville and for 27 years he has been a faithful steward of the successful program. He recently earned his 200th dual win, placing him in the Top 10 of all time IHSA cross country coaches.
Kramer was fortunate to coach a team to 6th place at state, and then last year’s team to 3rd place at state, earning the school’s first-ever state cross country trophy.
“When I was hired at Shelbyville, Gerald Temples was coaching football and track and Tonya Kern was coaching volleyball,” said Coach Kramer. “They were always in the playoffs or going to state. Coach Woolverton had three titles in baseball. I thought, ‘Man, I’ve gotta be successful to keep up with the Joneses.’”
Kramer continued, “The cross country team had been to state 3 out of 5 years with runners like the Yockeys, the Matons, and Mike Schaeffer. Shelbyville had a great tradition and winning programs. I just wanted to try and uphold that.”
Kramer mentioned other former SHS cross country coaches like Larry Beavers, Andy Cichalewski, Bob Herdes, and Lindsey Camfield, who had preceded him, and had good teams.
Kramer was not originally a cross country guy. He was a sprinter in college. But when he got to go home and teach at Erie, Illinois, he fell into it.
“I started coaching under Roger Fredrickson and he had taken Erie to 3rd place at state,” Kramer said. “I was the athletic director, was teaching, coaching golf helping in cross country and track. Then next year , Roger left, and I had to follow him coaching cross country.”
Kramer has been coaching cross country and track ever since. He may not have known cross country real well, but he was willing to learn from other coaches.
“I’m was more of a track guy, but I got to learn from coaches like Roger Schmidt from Winnebago,” Coach Kramer said. “He retired with five girls state championships and 3 of 4 boys titles. He was a mentor of mine. The first year, we won sectional with just six kids and he called me. he said, ‘How did you do that?”
Kramer won 3 or 4 regionals and sectionals off the bat.
“It looked easy,” Kramer remembered. “If we had been kicked in the teeth, it would have become a different story.”
Another area coach that helped Kramer was Coach Jim Edmundsen of Cowden-Herrick.
“He was the nicest man I ever met,” Kramer said. “He helped show me the ropes. We barely beat them a few years at regionals and I felt bad. He was the one of the finest coaches I’ve ever met, but you also have to have the talent.”
Kramer still bounces things off coaches from other schools.
“All the coaches are helpful to each other,” Kramer said. “Its a unique coaching fraternity, like Tony Cook from Robinson and Jim Miller from Cumberland. All of them are great coaches and I’m not afraid to call them and they’ll share information to get better.”
Kramer and the Rams found early success, but they couldn’t rest on their laurels. They had to always be improving and learning, adapting to the changes within the sport.
“When we had to start running against the northern programs in the early 90’s it got tougher to qualify,” Coach Kramer said. “We had to raise our level even more. There were bigger meets. and the junior high program got started. I fought for it and Gary Crowder and the school board backed it.”
That meant Kramer had to learn more.
“Hey, good kids are willing to work,” Kramer said. “So coaches have to go to clinics each year. Young coaches need to know that they have to keep learning. If you are standing still, you are falling behind. We added something new each year. We’ve added bike riding to our training. Your heart doesn’t know if you are running or biking. You can bike twice what you can run.”
Other changes in training include ice baths after workouts, warming up differently and stretching after workouts. Coach Kramer wants to credit the kids. Its because of all the hard work they do that makes success possible.
“To be in cross country you have to be dedicated,” Kramer said. Coaches from other sports may think, ‘How hard is it? You just go out and run.’ Our kids run seven days a week. We have 14 kids showing up on Sunday and running to Findlay. They have bought into it the last 5-10 years. We’ve gotten better the last five years.”
Another big change on the girls side that Kramer had to adapt to during his tenure was the increase in distance from 2 miles to 3.
“The girls distance went from 2.1 to 2.5 to 3 miles,” Kramer said. “When Brooke Roberts won state (’89-90) it was 2.1 miles. It changed the training and I felt that then I could train the boys and the girls the same.”
When Sarah Selby, Shelbyville’s 3-time state champ (’99-00, ‘01-02, ‘02-03), was running, the distances went from 2.5 to 3 miles.
Kramer and the Rams have benefited from the intense competition in their own area.
“Our conference has raised the level of cross country in Central Illinois,” Kramer said. “The Decatur Sectional is the best in the state. There are seven state-ranked teams vying for five slots. You’ve got Mt. Zion, Tolono, Monticello, St. Teresa. You have Hall of Fame coaches at smaller schools. So, you’ve got to get better.”
Retired high school and Kramer mentor, Roger Fredrickson, who won seven state championships with the Winnebago girls cross country team believes in off season training.
“I’ve never coached a state championship team or individual state champion that didn’t train in the offseason,” he said. “It just makes sense for distance runners to establish their endurance base in the summer, so they’re prepared to race when the competitive cross country season starts.”
Kramer credits the kids for meeting that challenge, as well.
“We had three or four guys run 600 miles in the summer,” Kramer said. “We had eight or nine kids run 300-600 miles. We’ve never had that many before. I am lucky to have such good kids. Once you get that success, the younger kids see it. We had a great group of seniors last year and I thought there might be a drop off. We haven’t seen it. Our workouts are better than last year’s teams. Once you get that going, it’s easier. Winning is contagious.”
Kramer is a firm believer in the team concept.
“You can’t hide a runner in cross country,” Kramer said. “You’ve got to have seven solid runners. That gets the better runners fighting for a spot makes the team better. You’ve got to get the most out of each kid and don’t leave anyone behind. If I can get you to be the best possible runner you can be, then I’m successful.”
Kramer said the team is also very close, besides practice and meets.
“They do things together,” Kramer said. “They meet every Wednesday night at Joe’s Pizza for spaghetti. They just decided to do it. Drennian (Martin) saw it as a freshman and they continue it. He saw what it takes to be a successful team. Being consistent has big rewards and we have one of the best teams in the state.”
Everday practices have also evolved during Kramer’s 27 years.
“We have four phases,” Kramer said. “We have base building in the summer. Then repetition, short stuff on the track: 200s, 400s for three or four weeks. Then intervals, 800s to a mile, close to race pace. Then we go to peak or threshold, running fast at the end of the year. Cross country is different. You has to get seven guys to run their best of the year all on the same day.”
Kramer’s 200 dual win may stand as mark for quite awhile. Especially since there are fewer dual meets than there used to be. That’s another change in the sport. Coach Kramer mentioned one successful coach who was 27-1 in dual meets in one year. Running their legs out isn’t good and injuries need to be controlled.
“Research supports running less meets in a week,” Kramer said. “We run about nine dual meets a year now. We run (meets) once a week or so now.”
With 27 years in cross country, several regional and conference titles, over 200 duals wins, a dual winning streak of 72 in a row from the mid-90’s, individual state champions and most recently a 6th and 3rd place state team, Coach Kramer has been a good and faithful steward of the successful program placed in his hands.
He’s Hall of Fame in my book.