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Warhawks coach has many admirers

By PETE YOUNG

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 30, 2001


SEMINOLE -- "Oh no!" Bruce Calhoun wailed. "Don't do that."

Sorry, coach, the decision has been made.

"I really wish you wouldn't do that," he begged. "It's about the kids. It's not about me."

Precisely.

It is about the kids, about the long line of kids who stream through the Seminole program year after year after year. The Warhawks annually have the most and best kids in Pinellas County, i.e. the largest team and the best team, for both the boys and girls. And, well, there must be a reason for that besides dumb luck.

Calhoun is the reason.

Entering his 19th year at Seminole and 18th at the helm of its cross country programs, he can hide from the spotlight. That's fine because his resume speaks for itself, and his runners and fellow coaches speak for him.

The resume: Calhoun's boys have won six consecutive conference titles. Calhoun's girls have won three in a row.

The boys haven't finished worse than second at the PCAC meet since 1989. The girls have been in the top three every year since 1990 except 1992, when they "slipped" to fourth and then rebounded to win the district title with a senior-less team.

"He's the father of cross country in Pinellas County," Palm Harbor U. coach Darryl Southard said. "He's built a great program. Siblings of runners go through the program over and over. It seems like a big family atmosphere, and it shows by the amount of people he gets to go to team camps and how many kids he gets out there."

What is it like at a meet with orange-clad Seminole?

"It's this huge orange spot," Seminole senior Nicole Ferraro said. "We're very proud of it."

"You see an army of runners coming," Southard said.

This year, Calhoun, who teaches English at Seminole, has 30 girls and 22 boys. That's normal for Seminole and about double what other teams average.

What are his secrets? Calhoun, 51, credits the school, the kids who join the program, the parents who help and his assistants. "I really like the kids," said Calhoun, whose sons, Sean (class of 1995) and Casey ('97), ran for the Warhawks. "If you really enjoy it, it makes you a better teacher and coach. And I really enjoy it.

"It's not a matter of outfoxing anyone or saying anything monumentally smart. It's just a matter of the kids believing what I'm saying."

They do, and they feed off of his fervor.

"His enthusiasm is just infectious," Ferraro said. "He's very inspirational. He always says something that picks us up. He's always very positive about things.

"He's very honest. He'll say, 'It's hotter than a bear's heinie out there' -- that's what he always says -- 'but you're just going to have to do what you can.' He always makes me want to run."

"He is just incredible," said ex-Seminole runner Jackie Magee, who graduated last spring and whose brother, Kenneth, is a sophomore runner for Seminole. "He's just the best coach. He keeps everything interesting."

Seminole's chief competition has been Largo. Packers girls coach Mike Beck is most impressed with Calhoun's ability to coach two teams at the same time. Beck coached both teams at Largo for four years but has coached just the girls for the past six. "He gets a lot of people out there, kids who want to come out and run," Beck said. "He keeps interest up. He's an excellent cross country coach, and once you start having some success, you get the tradition factor going."

Calhoun and his wife, Diana, a kindergarten teacher at Madeira Beach Elementary, moved to Pinellas County from Michigan in the early 1980s after Calhoun was laid off from a teaching job.

A runner in college at Eastern Michigan, Calhoun, who runs 5 miles almost every day, took over both teams after a year as an assistant football coach. The teams got better in the '80s and became dominant in the '90s.

One thing is missing from Calhoun's legacy: a state title. The closest he has come was last year, when the boys were second. "We like to do as well as we can in Pinellas County. That's our goal. If we do that, we find that good things happen at district and region and so forth," Calhoun said.

Then he added, "You know, it's not too late. You don't have to do this story."

Sorry, coach.

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