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Barnesville’s Brown: The dean of OV head coaches

BARNESVILLE — The reasons why people coach are plentiful.

For most — including Barnesville cross country and girls track coach Mark Brown — the love of the sport and the desire to help kids reach their full potential are the highest on the list.

But, at a time when coaching turnover — especially in the Ohio Valley — is occurring at a rapid rate, Brown continues to do what he loves.

“I think the secret to coaching this long is loving the sport. I look forward to cross country season and races now as much as I ever have,” Brown said.

Brown is the longest-tenured head coach at Barnesville High School. Taking that a step farther, his 36 years at the helm of the Shamrocks make him the longest tenured — across all sports — in The Times Leader’s coverage area via research conducted recently.

Brown got involved in the sport of cross country as a high school student and honestly never stopped. Still a competitive runner to this day, Brown is credited with startng the highly successful Shamrocks cross country program in 1984.

“We had some good distance runners in track that had nothing to do in the Fall,” Brown said of his motivation to begin the program.

The program has known no other coach.

“I’ve enjoyed coaching all these years, both because of the nature of sport and the many great kids I’ve worked with,” Brown said.

While it’s very rarely the chief reason for entering the coaching profession at the high school level, Brown has experienced a lot of success with the Shamrocks. On top of the 10 OVAC titles he’s won, Brown guided the Shamrocks’ girls team to the 1997 OHSAA Division III State Championship. He also owns several district and regional championships, too.

All of the success aside, Brown believes that some of the finest coaching or memories stem from kids who might not have even tasted the state meet, OVAC or even scored in the top five for their respective team.

” Some of my favorite teams and runners were the ones that didn’t win a lot of meets,” Brown said.

Brown is one of only three coaches, who are currently active in their sport in the T-L coverage area with a state championship on his resume. Jillian Ongley (Shadyside softball) and Tony Ciroli (St. Clairsville boys track) are the others.

Though Brown has built a consistent program that’s enjoyed a lot of success and some of the area’s premier distance runners have come through his program, there have been a fair share of lean years, too.

“When you coach in a small public school, there will be both good and bad years. Things go in cycles,” Brown said. “You’ll have some good hard working athletes for a while, then the complete opposite a few years later. Talent cycles are the nature of the profession.”

Indeed.

That’s especially true in the Ohio Valley where schools battle declining enrollments to go along with so many other opportunities for student-athletes to pursue that sports often times isn’t at the top of the list.

Coaches — across all sports — will have a vast collection of kids. From extremely talented and dedicated ones to athletes who may not be as talented, but work harder than anyone else. Or, unfortunately, there are the athletes who are on the team that may be talented, but just don’t work as hard as the coaches may prefer. Regardless, as Brown has realized many times, the coaches have to continue to push them and try to motivate them as much as possible.

“I also think its important to not stress over things that are hard to control. There will always be those kids that won’t work to their potential,” Brown said. “I’ts frustrating, but there is only so much you can do.”

Brown doesn’t necessarily agree, however, with the thought that ‘kids have changed.’

“I don’t think the CC kids have changed much in my 36 years. There have always been dedicated hard working ones and also the lazy ones,” Brown said. “Many do exactly what they are supposed to, and there have always been those who put very little effort into practice, especially when they aren’t being watched.”

One piece of advice Brown offers to younger coaches and it’s not just aimed at cross country or track coaches is always realize that not all teams and athletes are the same.

“Be willing to learn from other coaches, and be willing to accept that you will have to adapt to each (athlete’s) abilities,” Brown said. “Coaches who are set on training all their (athlete) only one way will end up with kids who get injured or burned out. Also, what works one year may not the next year.”

Brown has no signs of slowing down either. At a recent meet, he spoke with a pair of coaches who are approaching 50 seasons at the helm of their respective programs, but Brown doesn’t think he will go quite that long.

“I hope to continue coaching as long as I enjoy doing it and the school district wants me,” Brown admitted.

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