Longtime Wellington High School track and cross country coach Charles Wallace has the affections of the kids he has coached. He wears a cap they gave him with the words, “Coach Wallace” in front.
With around 70 Wellington High School kids signed up for track this past season, it was one of the biggest groups of kids he’d seen out for the sport in some time.
Wallace, 74, tens to not carry a cell phone with him. He ignores them when he can.
“When we get off the bus, the cell phones go away,” he said. “I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to hear it. We never had to deal with those things before.”
Cell phones are just one of the many changes Wallace has had to get used to in his 53 years of coaching — all of it at Wellington High School.
He grew up in Brumal, a small Pennsylvania town west of Philadelphia. After high school, he joined a friend in going to Kansas and attending Ottawa University where there was a smaller population of students. Something he preferred.
After graduating from Ottawa in 1966, Wallace had an opportunity to attend graduate school at the University of Tennessee and work as a graduate assistant, but he also had a teaching and coaching opportunity awaiting his at Wellington High School.
“I had no money, no job, no transportation,” Wallace said. “When this job became available, it was a no-brainer.”
Married in 1971 and becoming a father three years later, coaching three sports a year had become too much of a grind so he let go of wrestling and continued to coach track and cross country.
“I can relate to those kids probably more so than others,” he said.
The thing Wallace likes about cross country is every kid gets to participate.
“If we have 50 kids out for cross country, 50 kids get to run and there’s not a lot of sports where you can say that. There’s no time outs once the race starts. They’ve got to solve their problems while the competition is going on. They’ve got to do the best they can under the circumstances.”
During his teaching career, Wallace taught such social science classes as American History, Psychology, World History and Advanced Placement History. He received his master’s degree from Emporia State University in 1974.
After 35 years of teaching, he retired from teaching in 2001. “That’s enough time to spend in the classroom,” he said.
While the classroom has changed, coaching has changed too, he said. In the 1970s, coaches could announce the first day of practice for cross country during the spring and in August, 30 kids would show up. Nowadays, with computers and other activities, more things are competing for students’ time.
One thing that has not changed is the relationships coaches develop with the kids they coach.
“You see them become successful, not necessarily in life, but in their careers,” Wallace said. “They become responsible people. They add to the community.”
This past year, Wallace coached a cross country athlete who’s grandfather he coached in the ’70s.
“When you’re around young people, it’s gotta rub off a little bit,” he said.