Amundson is Minnesota assistant coach of the yearThe tasks assistant coaches are asked to carry out at the high school level aren’t always glamorous.
By: By Eric Morken, Sports Reporter, Alexandria Echo Press
The tasks assistant coaches are asked to carry out at the high school level aren’t always glamorous.
Along with working with the athletes, they are often responsible for a lot of the little things that go on to make sure everything goes smoothly. Alexandria cross-country assistant coach Jerry Amundson knows all about it. He’s been carrying out those tasks for 30 years, working alongside head coach Mark Nelsen in what has been a very successful Cardinal program.
Nelsen is the first to admit how important Amundson has been to that success. Earlier this summer, he was recognized for that when he was named the cross-country assistant coach of the year in Minnesota.
“It really is a tremendous honor,” Amundson said. “We have so many good coaches throughout the state and a ton right in our own section that we get to face week in and week out.”
His dedication to the Alexandria program is what makes him stand out among his peers. He arrived in Alexandria in 1978, where he immediately began helping Nelsen as a volunteer at the junior high level. When Nelsen started the girls’ cross country program in Alexandria in 1980, Amundson was happy to join him as his assistant.
“I truly believe that much of the success of our program is a direct result of what he does and his commitment to the program,” Nelsen said. “I think a lot of other coaches wouldn’t stick around for the 30 years to continue to work that hard. It’s a passion for him. You can tell when he comes to practice, and to continue to have that kind of passion after 30 years is pretty incredible.”
Amundson never sought the head coaching position for any other cross-country program because of his relationship with Nelsen. The two have been inseparable in the coaching ranks, spending a combined 75 seasons together in cross country, track and field and swimming at the junior high and high school levels. Nelsen has been equally committed to Amundson as his assistant coach for the boys’ track and field team in the spring.
It’s a relationship that has been easy to maintain because of their similar coaching styles. Both want to see every athlete accomplish their goals, no matter what those goals may be. Making sure each athlete has fun along the way goes hand-in-hand. That’s something that Nelsen says Amundson has excelled at over the years.
“You only have to go to some of our practices or one of our competitions and you can see that passion and that smile on his face when an athlete has a really fine performance,” Nelsen said. “He is also really quick to respond to an athlete who maybe didn’t have a great race. He is one of the first ones to put an arm on the shoulder and talk to them about what went wrong.”
The connection with the athletes is what keeps him coming back every year. Amundson still works as a math teacher at Discovery Middle School and spends a lot of time between there and Jefferson High School. The kids are always quick to offer a hello in the hallways, often referring to him as simply “Coach A.”
“That just kind of gets the adrenaline pumping,” he said. “That’s when I start to say, ‘What could this season bring?’ It’s exciting to see the kind of rapport you can develop with the kids.”
That’s the good that has outweighed the bad that comes with being a head coach in the spring and an assistant in the fall. Amundson spends a lot of his time with the cross-country program working on statistics. He charts half-mile, one-mile and two-mile splits for the athletes so they can see where they have improved and which areas they still need to work on. He gets all that information completed the night of a meet, which has led to a lot of late nights after competitions on the road.
The time spent coaching has also taken time away from his family. Amundson’s wife, J’Nelle, has made it easier on him by supporting his passion for coaching over the years.
“That’s one of the reasons I’ve been able to coach as long as I have,” Amundson said. “I owe a lot of what I’ve been able to accomplish to her support.”
Amundson has no plans on walking away from his assistant coaching duties. He and Nelsen have become synonymous with the Cardinal running programs. As long as one is still there, expect the other to be by his side.
“I always thought I would probably coach as long as he does,” Amundson said. “I still enjoy the teaching part, but I haven’t had time for a lot of other hobbies. This has really been my hobby. For right now, I’m just kind of taking it year by year. We’ll see what happens. I guess we’ll find out how long Mark goes.”