WDP’s Zellner up for national award
By Greg Bates
For the first time in West De Pere High School athletics history, a coach is up for a national honor.
The Phantoms head coach for girls’ track and field Craig Zellner was notified last week he’s a finalist for the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) National Coach of the Year for girls’ track and field.
Zellner helped lead the West De Pere girls’ track and field program to the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) Division I team state championship this past June.
“I’m very thankful for the recognition, appreciate the recognition, but I don’t really look at it as an individual award,” said Zellner, who will be in his eighth year as head coach when track and field starts in the spring. “We’ve got a great coaching staff and I think that says a lot about them as a staff and us as a group. It’s kind of more like a program award. Obviously, this type of award doesn’t happen unless you’ve got a great group of ladies that are very talented, they’re motivated, they push each other and had a ton of success this year. Really, I think a lot of the credit goes to the girls themselves and then our coaching staff as a whole. I think it’s really a nice program award is the way I look at it.”
The honor came out of the blue.
“It kind of caught me by surprise a little bit,” Zellner said. “But we did have a very successful year, so I feel like with success comes some of those accolades.”
West De Pere Associate Principal/Activities Director Scott Eggart is thrilled for Zellner and the entire girls’ track and field program for the honor.
“I think it’s just validation of what a great job Craig and all of his assistants have done,” Eggart said. “Their participation numbers just get higher and higher every year because kids love to be a part of that program and we just keep experiencing more and more success. It’s great for the school to get that kind of recognition; it’s great for those girls that have put in a lot of work.”
Zellner and Eggart aren’t entirely sure how the process works to select the finalist for the NFHS national coach of the year awards.
However, Zellner is also up for national coach of the year through the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA). For that award, there are 50 finalists for girls’ track and field, one coach from each state.
Zellner has to fill out paperwork and submit it back to the NFHS by Nov. 1. Zellner is guessing the winners of all the national awards through the NFHS won’t be announced until January.
Eggart said Zellner is a great coach and mentor to the athletes who participate under his watch. He treats every kid the same whether they’re a state-quality competitor or just out for the sport to enjoy the experience. Eggart noted that Zellner excels at creating relationships with the athletes.
“He’s just a really down-to-earth guy,” Eggart said. “I know he’s really embarrassed by all of these things that are happening, and it just speaks volumes to who he is. He’s just excited that the kids are having a great experience.”
Zellner has assembled a quality staff of assistants that are valuable in a number of different areas. That has certainly helped the program achieve success.
“This is my 15 th year at West De Pere, I love it at West De Pere,” Zellner said. “From day one, I’ve been put in a great situation. I think our district has great leadership, our building has great leadership with Russ (Principal Russell Gerke) and Scott. Just in the science department I work with, Joe Rukamp, he’s a state championship coach, Jack Batten’s a state championship coach, Kevin Olm, Division I athlete, he’s on our track staff. … I was put in a really good situation. You learn from some of your peers and take what you like and go with it.”
Zellner said he works well with his coaching staff and everyone is involved for the right reasons.
“Whether it’s baseball or football or basketball or soccer, it’s about putting our athletes in the best position to succeed,” Zellner said. “It’s like a family at West De Pere.”