Clark: Morgan Park’s Derrick Calhoun sets standard for coaching
By Mike Clark firstname.lastname@example.org January 16, 2014 10:44PM
Updated: January 16, 2014 10:44PM
A long time ago, Derrick Calhoun got a pretty good piece of advice from another Public League track coach.
“He told me, ‘All you need is six quarter-milers,’ ’’ Calhoun said.
That simple formula has made Calhoun’s Morgan Park girls program one of the state’s best. In his 25th year with the Mustangs, Calhoun has seven IHSA state titles and seven runner-up finishes. In a 12-year span from 1994 to 2005, Morgan Park never finished lower than second at state.
It would be an impressive run anywhere, but it’s more remarkable in the Chicago Public Schools. Like every other city track team, Morgan Park has no indoor facility — unless you count the school’s hallways. And Calhoun has only one assistant, Monica Dawson, who has been with him for 23 seasons.
How Calhoun has done so much with so little often has flown under the radar, in large part because he hasn’t done much to publicize it.
“He’s just very humble, very quiet about what he does,” said Bob Geiger, Young’s girls cross-country coach and former girls track coach. “He’s not in it for himself. It’s always about the kids.”
Last weekend, it was about Calhoun, who was inducted into the Illinois Track and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
It was well-deserved recognition for someone who is exactly what the Public League needs: someone with high standards who is focused on results rather than excuses.
Those were on display when Calhoun arrived at Morgan Park after stints at Providence and Corliss. The year before he arrived, he recalls, the Mustangs won the city title and sent a few relays Downstate.
“They really didn’t see the state meet as something they could compete in and do well,” Calhoun said. “The actual frame of mind [was], ‘We go to the state meet, we run on Friday, and Saturday we sit and watch the meet.’ ”
When Calhoun told his athletes they could get to the finals and score points, he said, “They were taken aback. . . . They had to be shown, ‘I can compete outside the city and do well.’ ”
There has been no better example of that than Alexandria Anderson. She set the state-meet records in the 100, 200 and 400 meters and the long jump — all records that stand (the 100 mark has been tied) — and won 14 firsts and two seconds between 2002 and ’05.
Anderson went on to star at Texas and won a bronze in the 100 at last year’s outdoor national championships. What happens to his athletes after high school and away from the track concerns Calhoun as much as anything.
“Early on, I started study hall before practice,” he said, noting the team grade-point average is always in the 3.5-or-better range. “Probably 98, 99 percent of them have graduated college.”
The study sessions keep the Mustangs up to speed in the classroom. On the track, Calhoun relies on another tradition: He also coaches the girls cross-country team and makes sure his track athletes are with him.
“It gives us time to get the team together,” he said. “They can get in a lot of work outside [in the fall] before going inside.”
Still, there’s only so much a coach can do with no indoor track and one assistant — which is why that advice about quarter-milers came in handy. Calhoun and Dawson build their teams around sprinters and hurdlers with some jumpers thrown in, scoring points where they can.
Six athletes were enough to win the Mustangs’ first state hardware, for a second-place finish in 1992. “It showed you can get in the trophy circle, and you don’t need 15 or 20 athletes to do it,” Calhoun said.
Just some hardworking kids and a Hall of Fame coach.