Amundson decides to step awayThe Cardinal coach calls it a career after more than 30 years.
By: Eric Morken, Alexandria Echo Press
Alexandria’s Jerry Amundson is up to more than 100 seasons coached in one sport or another over almost four decades.
That tenure has included stints in basketball and swimming, but anyone who knows Amundson knows that he has made his mark by leading the Alexandria running programs during that time. He has spent the last 32 years as the head coach of the Cardinal boys’ track and field team and three years prior to that as an assistant.
After this past season, he decided that was enough. Amundson handed in his resignation recently with mixed emotions after weighing what was best for him and his family against a passion he has followed for most of his life.
“It seems like every spring between the teaching job fulltime and the coaching, I keep getting a little bit more worn out every year by the spring of the year,” Amundson said. “I told the other coaches a year ago that if I was like that again this year, I just needed to make a change. It’s hard to walk away from.”
Amundson still teaches math at Discovery Middle School on top of what he demanded from himself as a head coach. At age 60, he feels his energy isn’t where it needs to be after dealing with an arrhythmia and sleep apnea over the past year.
Amundson has always packed a lot of energy into leading his programs. His typical day during the spring season saw him leaving for school around 6:30 in the morning. He generally didn’t return home until after 7 p.m. before finishing up a couple hours of school work. With practice time, meets and scouting, Amundson figured he added an additional 25-35 hours to his work load every week.
“It’s a big time commitment,” he said. “But it’s kind of a passion of something that’s kept growing. That part hasn’t died. I just don’t feel like I can keep putting in that time like I used to. That’s the hard part. I expect the best from all my kids, and I don’t know if I can do my best for them.”
That kind of effort is something his athletes came to expect from him over the years. Amundson has always tracked splits and overall times and distances for his kids to use as motivation and help them get better. Athletes always knew how close they were to a record or where they needed to improve to accomplish their goals.
Former Alexandria distance runner Drew Paradis said having those times were instrumental in helping him get to where he wanted to be in a Cardinal uniform. Amundson would leave no stone unturned when it came to giving the athletes any kind of chance to succeed.
“I remember the state track meet, Amundson would be taking my 100-meter splits for a mile race,” Paradis said. “He was always trying to find ways to help me improve and find ways to improve the team. That was always really cool to me. He is so passionate about this sport and passionate about the guys and the team getting better.”
Paradis credited Amundson and cross country head coach Mark Nelsen for doing everything they could to help him reach his potential. Paradis was a two time all-state runner in cross country and an all-state performer in the 1,600-meter run his senior year in track in 2009.
He went on to spend three years in the University of Minnesota track and cross country programs before deciding to step away from the sport after this past season. He will graduate next spring with a degree in Kinesiology and plans on going on to four more years of schooling in physical therapy.
“I’m so thankful and appreciative for the way that they prepared me,” Paradis said of Nelsen and Amundson. “They’re a huge part of the reason why I went to the University of Minnesota because I wanted to see what I could do at that level.”
Nelsen and Amundson have been side-by-side during their entire careers in Alexandria. Every fall since 1980, Amundson has served as an assistant coach in cross country before Nelsen returned the favor for him on the track and field team in the spring.
Amundson said the plan is to still be there for Nelsen as an assistant this coming fall. Having someone else to work with come April will take a little bit of getting used to for Nelsen.
“It’s going to be, strange wouldn’t begin to describe it,” he said. “After 30 years, whoever takes the position has big shoes to fill. It will be difficult to find someone with his knowledge of track and the tradition that is in place with our program.”
That tradition was established under Amundson. He leaves after leading his boys’ teams to 11 Central Lakes Conference titles, eight section championships and countless state participants.
“I’ve been pretty fortunate to see some success,” Amundson said. “Our boys’ [swimming and diving] teams were state champs in 1999 and 2000. I got to be on the deck to see all that. Got to see state championships for our cross country programs for a couple of years and a whole lot of years we’ve been in the top 10. That was pretty exciting.”
Amundson might not be there to see the work that goes on behind the scenes but that doesn’t mean he will disappear from the track completely. He still plans on following the kids’ accomplishments and being there to watch at the season’s biggest meets.
For someone who has invested so much into a sport, walking away completely really isn’t an option.
“I think it would be impossible for me,” Amundson said. “You can’t walk away from family.”