Fairbanks High School head football coach Patrick Cotter, left, speaks with an official during a 2020 game. Cotter has taken over as the Panthers’ head coach in the track and field program. (Journal-Tribune photo by Tim Miller)
Fairbanks High School officials went looking over the winter for a new head track and field coach.
They found one in perhaps one of the most unlikely of candidates, based on his sports background.
Patrick Cotter, who has been the Panthers’ head football coach for several seasons, has taken over the top of the FHS track program.
That might not seem unusual at first glance.
Throughout history, plenty of high school football mentors have also doubled as track coaches.
What’s different about Cotter, however, is the fact he’s never participated in track and field in any way, shape or form.
He’s actually a baseball guy.
Cotter played high school baseball at Marysville and then continued on the collegiate level at Muskingum.
He also served a few years as the head baseball coach at Marion Elgin High School.
Just how did someone who devoted a lot of years to the baseball diamond find his way in charge of a track and field program?
“Mike Van Winkle, who had done a great job with the track program, wasn’t going to come back and coach this year,” he told the Journal-Tribune.
“Larry (Fairbanks athletic director Morris) asked me if I was interested and I said I was,” he said. “However, I first had to check it out with my wife, Joey.”
Once he obtained the spousal thumbs up, Cotter was ready to go.
“This gives me an opportunity to impact other Fairbanks athletes that I wouldn’t be able to do in football,” he said when asked why he took the position.
“It’s also another way for me to keep giving back to the school district and helping our student-athletes do great things.”
Cotter admits he didn’t know a lot of ins and outs about track, such as the order of meet events and how to enter the Panthers into invitationals.
That’s where he’s received vital help.
“One of the most important things a head coach can do is surround him or herself with exceptional assistant coaches,” said Cotter. “That’s one of the many things I’ve learned from guys I consider mentors – my brother Morgan, (former Fairbanks and Marysville head football coach), Rich Weiskircher (former MHS head football boss) and Brent Johnson (the Monarchs’ current grid coach).”
To that end, Cotter has already succeeded.
Jeff Powell, who was Fairbanks’ head track coach for eight seasons, has rejoined the program.
Julie Court, who is a new teacher on the Fairbanks staff, previously was head track coach in the Clyde school district.
Hunter Burnett, who was a former FHS track standout, has also returned to the staff.
Although Cotter is still in the learning process about the sport, he feels comfortable.
“I know how to train athletes in the weight room and through running,” he said. “It’s also about treating them properly and with respect.”
Each coach on the staff has his or her areas of responsibility.
Cotter oversees the distance runners, while Court advises the throwers (shot put and discus).
Powell and Burnett look after areas such as sprints and jumps.
Cotter has brought a couple of different approaches to coaching track athletes.
“I’ve especially told my football guys on the track team that I’m coaching the sports in different ways,” he said, adding it may not be with the same type of intensity as on the gridiron.
There already were several Panther football players in the track program.
Gridiron players who have now joined the team include Tanner Ufferman, Christian Miller, Bryson Tillman and Mazen Green.
“One day last week, I didn’t really do any coaching during our practice session,” he said. “I just went around to the different groups and asked a lot of questions.”
That, he said, was an effort in trying to get to know his non-football playing athletes a little better.
Cotter also held an intra-squad meet last week.
That was done to give younger athletes the experience of a high school meet.
“Our freshmen and sophomores have no high school track experience,” he said. “The sophomores missed out as freshmen last year because of COVID-19.
“Only our seniors and juniors have any type of high school experience and they were sophomores and freshmen the last time there was an actual meet.
“The kids supported each other very well during the intrasquad meet,” said Cotter. “It was a team effort to push each other.”
The 2021 preseason has been a learning curve for both Cotter and his athletes.
“The kids have responded to the coaching change pretty well,” he said. “For one thing, they’re just happy to be back competing on the track.
“For another, some of them have been in my (history) classroom,” the coach added. “They know what my expectations are of them.”
The Panthers will open the 2021 season today with the Ohio Heritage Conference preview meet at Mechanicsburg.