Shaping future athletes

Coach Bates named to WCA Coaches Hall of Fame

Robert Galbreath
Posted 6/13/24

Southeast Schools track and volleyball coach Trisha Bates is a 2024 inductee into the Wyoming Coaches Association's Coaches Hall of Fame.

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Shaping future athletes

Coach Bates named to WCA Coaches Hall of Fame

Posted

GOSHEN COUNTY – Eighteen sixth graders gathered for the first day of outdoor track practice at Southeast Schools on a chilly Wyoming spring day. The youngsters awaited their coaches with eagerness, but also with apprehension.

Most of the 12- and 13-year-olds assembled that day knew next to nothing about track and field. The difference between the triple jump and high jump or the shot put and discus remained a complete mystery. Concepts like starting block techniques, proper running form, split time, PR, mid-distance, jumping pit or ‘kicking it in’ were as unfamiliar as a problem in an advanced calculus textbook.

Fast forward two months and each of the tracksters who stuck out the season are running, jumping and throwing with confidence. The throwing ring, a row of hurdles and the curve of the starting line no longer provoked bewilderment. 

Shaping young people into capable track athletes and watching them conquer the sport’s steep learning curve is the greatest reward of coaching middle school track and field, an activity that can seem like “herding cats” on particularly challenging days with 40 preteens and teens, Southeast coach Trisha Bates said.

“Middle school is the best,” Bates said. “You see so much growth. They start out not knowing anything about the sport. But by the end of the season, you can see how much they’ve improved. You can see that they are an athlete now. They know how to compete and they know the sport.”

In May, Bates completed her 20th season coaching middle school track at Southeast Schools. Bates’ career also spanned 12 years as a middle school volleyball coach and six years coaching high school volleyball for Southeast.

The Wyoming Coaches Association honored Bates’ commitment and success as a coach with the announcement of her induction into the organization’s Hall of Fame for junior high and middle school coaches this spring.

“It’s very humbling,” Bates said of the award. “And unexpected. It’s humbling to think that I’ve had an impact on young lives for that long.”

Great coaches for inspiration

Bates knew she wanted to work with young people as an educator for as long as she can remember.

“I always knew I was going to be a teacher,” Bates said. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

In 1998, Bates landed a job teaching middle school and high school social studies at Southeast Schools where she remains today.

“I’ve been lucky to be in the same position at Southeast,” Bates said. “The kids are great and I love the people I work with. The community is great, too.”

Initially, Bates’ career plans did not include coaching sports. Instead, Bates “kind of stumbled across coaching” while teaching.

“I was asked if I wanted to be an assistant volleyball coach,” Bates said. “I responded that I wasn’t certified, but (the activities director) said, ‘Get certified’ and I said, ‘Okay.’”

Looking back on Bates’ experiences as a high schooler in Torrington, however, coaching seemed inevitable rather than accidental. Bates grew up around sports and her father, Dale Rien, coached high school basketball at Southeast.

Bates joined the Lady Blazer volleyball squad at Torrington High School and excelled in jumping events on the track and field team. A state champion in the triple jump, 100-meters, 100-meter hurdles and 4x100-meter relay, Bates set long-standing school records in several events.

“I loved track and I had some great coaches who influenced me,” Bates said. “I probably knew that one day I would coach.”

Bates first went out for track at the middle school under the guidance of Willard ‘Jinks’ Tucker.

“He was the one who got me hurdling,” Bates said.

In high school, Bates found inspiration with triple jump coach Dennis Andersen and hurdles coach Kay Grosinger. Bates also named track coach George Hahn and track and volleyball coach Kathy Hamer-Smith as positive role models.

Each coach instilled in Bates a concept that remained central to her life as an adult:

“All of my coaches pushed me to realize that you can only do what you can do,” Bates said. “I was always the kind of person who thought that I had to win. I was really hard on myself. Every one of my coaches made me realize that you can only get better. You don’t have to win all the time. You just have to do your best.”

All about growth

Bates took the mantra she learned from her coaches to heart and applied it as a coach, stressing personal growth as a measure for success.

“It’s not about winning – it’s about getting better,” Bates said. “That’s what we try to instill in the middle schoolers. Only one person can win, but everyone can get better. As coaches, we want you to improve at every track meet, every day – to push yourself every single time.”

Teaching and coaching at a small school allowed Bates to follow athletes she coached in middle school as they found success in high school.

“This year, I had freshmen that I coached in middle school as jumpers come up and say, ‘Hey, Mrs. Bates. I jumped a mark of such-and-such,’” Bates said. “The kids always come back and say, ‘Did you see my jump? Did you see my mark?’ I’m proud of them.”

Bates also emphasized teamwork.

“With middle school kids, the biggest thing that you need to teach them is how to be a team player,” Bates said. “You have to teach them how to be an athlete.”

Track and field is both an individual and a team sport. A successful program requires depth in all events to place well as a team, Bates explained, with athletes willing to step up and out of their comfort zone.

Bates recounted a story about a thrower who decided to fill a gap for the team in the 800-meters, an event the athlete was nervous about.

“The thrower said, ‘I don’t really want to do this, but there is an opening in the 800 and I’ll run that event,’” Bates said. “She did it for the team. She wasn’t going to win the 800, but she knew it was good for her and good for the team.”

Bates specializes in coaching jumpers and hurdlers, although she has helped out in every event except throwing. Jumping demands technical precision and a mastery of each intricate movement to succeed. 

Teaching athletes the correct skills  for jumping and other events are crucial at the middle school level.

“It’s important to teach athletes the fundamentals,” Bates said. “If you don’t teach them the right way to do things, when they get into high school, they’re going to have a lot of bad habits.”

Lastly, Bates highlighted the need for fun on the track and in the field.

“Middle school sports should be fun,” Bates said. “In track, you get to be with your friends. You get to work hard, show what you can do and improve. When athletes do better, they’re so excited. That’s what keeps them coming back.”

Bates thanked her middle school and high school coaches for “encouraging me to be better than I ever thought I could be.”

Bates gave a shoutout to the other track coaches she worked with at Southeast – Robin Schainost, Loni Sorensen, Lonna Schmick and Andrea Eisenbarth. Southeast High School track coaches Bruce Sinner and Mark Bullington also served as “mentors” to Bates.

“At Southeast, I feel like we have coaches who really want kids to get better,” Bates said.

Bates saved her deepest gratitude for her husband, Shad, daughters Madison and Morgan and father, Dale Rien. Bates coached both Madison and Morgan in volleyball and track.

“That was an amazing experience for me that I will never forget,” Bates said.

Barring the blizzard of the century descending during subsequent spring seasons, Bates plans to return as a track coach and volleyball referee for years to come.