Last time around the track

Long-time girls track coach and Anson P.E. teacher Wiser reflects on career

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM SODDERS Marshalltown eighth-grade girls track coach Don Wiser, a veteran of 39 years in the district, is set to retire at the end of the spring. He said he’s enjoyed being able to teach student-athletes important lessons through sports.

For nearly four decades, Miller Middle School girls track coach Don Wiser has instructed and challenged student-athlete; now he’s looking to retirement at the close of the current track season.

“You’ve got to coach with energy,” the 39-year track coach and current Anson Elementary School physical education teacher said.

Despite being a track head coach, Wiser said he actually never ran track during his days as a student.

“I played tennis,” he said with a laugh. “I just enjoy track, and I learned as I went.”

Along with his many years leading the eighth grade girls track program, Wiser has also coached eighth grade girls basketball and volleyball. Before coming to Marshalltown, he coached high school football and middle school wrestling and basketball at Keokuk.

Coaching middle- and high school sports isn’t Wiser’s only passion, and he said he enjoys working with the younger students as well.

“I love teaching physical education with the little kids, that’s what I’ve always wanted to do,” he said. “(Coaching) the middle school-aged kids, it’s just a nice level up, I always look forward to going and working with those kids.”

Wiser said he’s seen a lot of students in his elementary P.E. class that went on to join his track team when they reached Miller Middle School.

“Sometimes I know who the real athletes are going to be, and I look forward to them coming out,” he said, adding the different age groups present different challenges.

Track can teach many important lessons, and he said he thinks student-athletes benefit later in their lives from going out for sports.

“They learn a lot about themselves, how to push themselves, being responsible to show up, going beyond any minor injuries,” he said. “A lot of them haven’t come into something like that through anything else.”

Building a sense of camaraderie and developing a team mentality are other important parts of coaching track, Wiser said.

Since his early track coaching days, he said one major shift has been from measuring races in yards to meters. He also said some events, like the 10-flight hurdle event, have become more challenging as the number of hurdles athletes must jump has doubled since he started.

In elementary P.E., the instructor said he tries to align his teaching with the school building’s values.

“Our motto here is ‘Anson students are responsible and respectful learners,’ and a lot of the kids are still learning that concept,'” he said. “I’ve got it a whole lot easier than classroom teachers, I’ll be the first to admit that, but I’ve tried to make my program a fitness-oriented one with fun activities that involve the skills of different sports.”

Wiser added the kids usually have a lot of fun and have a “good sweat” going by the end of the class period.

Contemplating retirement at the end of the seven-week track season, Wiser said he and his wife would like to travel. However, he did not rule out returning to help coach girls track again if no one is found to fill the position.

“If they don’t have anyone to come in, I would be able to come back,” he said, adding he would only be able to sign a contract for a non-head coaching position during the track season, and would not be able to coach volleyball or basketball.

A love of instructing and challenging student-athletes can be seen in how Wiser talks about the sports he coaches, and he said he’s happy to have had the opportunity to coach for most of his life. He started teaching P.E. 44 years ago.

“That’s two-thirds of my life I’ve been teaching kids,” he said with a smile. “It’s just fun.”