Bobcats honor legendary coach

Shelter house dedicated to Tim Bell

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON • Longtime Marshalltown High School boys’ cross country coach Tim Bell was honored Thursday during a dedication ceremony at the Marshalltown Community College course. Bell and his wife Deanna, center, pose with the plaque presented by MHS superintendent Dr. Theron Schutte, left, and project manager Eric Weeden.

Before the festivities of the 44th annual Bobcat Cross Country Invite got underway on Thursday afternoon, there was a celebration of the career and accomplishments of one of the great Bobcats to don the blue and red.

Tim Bell, an MHS alumni, coached the Marshalltown boys’ cross country team for 32 years and served as athletic director for 13, all the while amassing an impressive resume as a head coach.

His teams won 128 total overall meets, he made 25 state championship appearances — including 18-straight years — and he was named Iowa, Regional, and Conference coach of the year on separate occasions. He had three state runner-up finishes, three state third place finishes and three individual state champions in his tenure, including a new state record set in 1999 by Grant Shadden and a tie of the state record by Stephen Dak in 2006.

Bell’s teams finished unbeaten against 147 teams across the state in his 32 years head to head, and he owned a staggering 80 percent winning percentage in head-to-head matchups, going 2391-470 in his career.

Current and former Marshalltown runners and people Bell touched throughout his time at the school all gathered around in front of the Marshalltown Community College course on Thursday for a dedication of the new shelter house at the course, which will have a plaque honoring Bell set into a rock for generations of Bobcats to view and learn about the MHS legend.

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON • Former Marshalltown boys’ cross country coach Tim Bell signals the start of the 44th annual Bobcat Invite on Thursday at MCC.

Bell, who was overwhelmed with emotion more than once during the ceremony, said what he will always remember isn’t the accomplishments and achievements of his team’s, but the individuals he had the honor of coaching.

“I was very blessed to have had a lot of great runners and a lot of great kids and families,” he said after serving as the starter for the first race of the day at the Bobcat Invite. “We had a pretty good gig going there for a long time with how many times we made it to state and all that, but more importantly I think we had a family approach to things and that was the big thing that I learned.”

Before taking over the position back in 1981, Bell said he received a word of advice from a family friend about how to get the best out of his runners, and it served him well throughout his time with the Bobcats.

“When I took the job, a good friend of my dad’s who was a great cross country coach told me ‘I could give me some workouts, but what you need to do is establish a family atmosphere and attitude,'” Bell said. “When you do that good things will happen, and we worked hard at trying to do that and I like to think that we did a pretty decent job of doing that.”

That was clearly the case, given how many of his former runners and students were in attendance during the dedication. Bell walked up to all of them and remembered each face, laughing throughout the festivities and sharing smiles with both his former runners and his family, who joined him under the new shelter house during the dedication.

“Seeing all the past runners come back, seeing what they are doing in their lives and seeing what they have accomplished and what they remember is great,” he said. “They can tease me about this and that and mimic me and all that, but it’s just great and very humbling.”

One of those former students, Eric Weeden, actually built the structure honoring the great coach, putting both his time, effort, and funds towards creating the new shelter house. Weeden said it was because of what Bell meant to both him and the Marshalltown community that he gladly built the structure in honor of the man.

“I have known Tim for probably over 35 years, he was actually one of my teachers,” Weeden said. “So I have a great deal of respect for Tim and I wanted to help to build on his legacy of being a Marshalltown High School Bobcat and being able to contribute towards his name.”

Current Marshalltown girls cross country coach Stacy O’Hare was coached by Bell in girls track, and she said watching the dedication and seeing all the faces that showed up to pay homage to the legendary coach was heartwarming.

“I thought we had and amazing turnout tonight for the dedication,” she said. “Tim was actually the first person I texted when I applied for the job, he is that person I keep in contact with and ask advice from all the time and he is always willing to do it. I know he misses it, but he is one of those people that you can keep asking questions and he is always willing to help. He has given up coaching but he is always right there trying to be a part of it, so that’s great.”

Bobcats boys cross country coach Chad Pietig, Bell’s successor, said though he didn’t graduate from MHS, he has learned a great deal from Bell in his time as a Bobcats coach.

“When I came here 15 years ago and was the girls track coach, I always picked his brain and Doug Bacon’s brain,” Pietig said. “I certainly appreciate his experience and I have always been a sponge around him when he is talking running and training. He is always offering encouragement and he is always the first one to come over and say ‘guys you’re improving and doing good.'”

Now that his legacy is quite literally cemented into the ground at the Bobcats’ home cross country course, Bell said a lot of what he set out to accomplish as a coach and athletic director came to fruition, though he did aspire to make the course a home for the state meet when it was moved to MCC from the Iowa Veterans Home.

He pointed to the development of the Bobcat Invite as something he is proud of, as it grew from humble beginnings to one of the largest cross country events in the state.

“We’ve built this meet up, the first year I think we had like six teams and now it’s been built up to where it’s one of the premiere meets in the state of Iowa,” he said.

Ultimately, Bell said one thing drove him throughout his career, and that was to see the Bobcats program that he ran for as a student succeed and prosper.

“The most important thing to me is, go Bobcats!” he said.