Young couple takes on the demands of high school coaching

This content requires a MileSplit Pro plan.
Join Now and select any plan for instant access!

MileSplit Pro
Join Now

This is the first in a three-part series looking at the high school cross country coaching profession in South Carolina. We've asked three coaches and their wives to talk about the rewards and challenges of the coaching profession, how the job impacts them and their families and how they have adjusted to the demands, and how high school coaching has evolved over the years in the state.

GREENVILLE -- Jonathan and Katie Smith are relatively new to high school cross country coaching, but they seem comfortable with the rewards and challenges that come with the job as they try to balance the coaching life with their young relationship.

The young couple had been friends for the past several years, having elevated that relationship into marriage just this past summer. Both will tell you it's been an exciting, yet busy year, made even more so with the demands of building a high school running program essentially from scratch.

Jonathan is in his second year at Southside High, a 3A Region 2 school. His wife, Katie, is in her first year as girls cross country coach. Both have running backgrounds, in fact that was how they first met.

Rebuilding the Southside program

"We were competing in the Palmetto 200 around three years ago when we met through a mutual friend," Jonathan said.

Jonathan ran for Emerald High. He attended Lander University, where he started a running club and was an assistant coach. Southside is his first head-coaching job.

Region rankings

Region team rankings

Katie was also a runner in high school, competing on girls cross country team at Laurens High. She ran cross country and track at Erskine College, where she earned a degree in mathematics. Katie has Masters in Education from Clemson. She was a volunteer coach last year at Southside and moved up to the girls cross country coach this season. She also teaches algebra at Southside.

Jonathan also coaches Southside's track team during the winter and spring, while Katie is the girl's soccer coach.

Inside look: Southside Tigers and coach Jonathan Smith

Having completed nearly a season of coaching cross country together, the couple seem pleased with the results, while acknowledging that there's plenty of work ahead.

"We enjoy working with each other," Jonathan said. "It's great having her out there. Knowing she's there gives me some peace of mind. I don't think I'm as good a coach when she's not out there with me."

Having the two in the sport also helps with the logistics, he said. "I do most of the footwork outside of school, while Katie takes care of most things in-house."

Katie said her running philosophy basically mirrors that of her husband.

"We complement each other's coaching styles," she said. "It's definitely easier for me to talk with the female athletes, having been there myself," which helps give the overall program more than one perspective, she said.

Still, with Jonathan enrolled at Clemson University -- he's working toward a Ph.D. in mathematics -- on top of what already was a full calendar for him and Katie, finding time away from cross country and track has gotten tougher.

"We're pretty much on the go from Monday to Saturday," he said. "I guess that's what Sunday's are for -- a day of rest."

The effort the couple is giving, however, appears to be showing positive results for Southside's cross country program. Last season started with a couple of dozen students on the team, though none had any experience in cross country. This season started with some new faces, mixed in with athletes who were returning from the 2014 team, a good sign in Jonathan's mind.

"We had returners this year, not as many as we would have liked, but the leadership this year is much better, and the people who have returned are doing better than they did last year," he said. "They're doing a good job of leading the team. They're stronger runners than they were before."

At the same time, Jonathan said he is learning more about what it takes to be a successful cross country and track coach, and the rewards that come with it.

"It's very satisfying watching the kids grow and watching them enjoy running and forming a family," he said. "It's a lot of work, but I must say that this year it's much better as far as learning how things work within the athletic department, and making sure that we dot all our I's and cross all our t's to make sure things get done efficiently and on time."

Photo gallery: Southside's first home meet
Video: Rebuilding a program: Southside XC