Annual Viking Alumni Event Turns Special for Kilbreth Coaching Duo

Alumni of Spartanburg High School\'s cross country team gathered for the annual alumni meet on Aug. 5.

Jim and Eileen Kilbreth thought this event was business as usual. For the past 25 years Jim Kilbreth introduces the "regular" alumni, however in an adjacent parking lot to the school was "visiting" alumni that normally don't make this special Viking event. Most of whom have not been back since they graduated.

During the announcing of alumni the "visiting" alumni yelled "Go Group," a normal saying by Jim Kilbreth, who at first thought it was just a late runner, but then one-by-one came alumni, being named by their high school coach. Approximately 45 alumni came in this way, with the 1982 State Champion class coming in as a group, with Kilbreth concluding the introductions. The Class of 1982 won the state titles in 1980 and 1981.

South Carolina coaches that were in attendance at the event included Jeff Buys (Dorman), Bob Jenkins (South Pointe), Delmer Howell (Mauldin), Calvin Hudgins (Northwestern) Rob Neilson (former Rock Hill coach), Frank Tice (Northwestern), and Bobby Urban (former Dorman coach).

Myles Wilson, Spartanburg High School\'s athletic director made the announcement at 7:15 p.m. that the course would be dedicated to the Kilbreth's and about the placement of a stone monument on the course. Reading the stone monument inscription aloud was Pete Whitlock (1982). A small replica of the stone was presented to the Kilbreths following the reading. The stone will be placed in late September. The stone will be jet black and include the a photo of each coach along with the following comments. Also on the stone will be a list of boys and girls state championship lists, on the respective sides.

\"We were completely surprised with the dedication at the 26th annual alumni Meet on Aug. 5,!\" said the Kilbreths. \"We had no clue what was going on, and to see all the runners returning was quite a thrill for both of us. The committee of Ed McCall, Pete Whitlock, Paul Groce, Steve Conway, and Clay Boswell did a lot of work contacting the alumni, and the former runners changed many of their plans to attend the meet. The same dedication, sacrifice, committment that led to the team\'s success over the years also applied to all those who chose to come back to honor us. Many had to change plans to make the meet, and did was just amazing to see them all!! Runners got to Spartanburg from New York, New Jersey, Costa Rica,etc. and we cannot ever thank them enough for honoring us.\"

Comments read about Jim Kilbreth:
This course is dedicated to Coach Jim Kilbreth who:
Taught us the value of commitment
Cultivated our appetite for victory
Willed us on to win
Was a mentor, role model, and guide
Made each of us a better person
Showed us that sacrifice produces results
Prepared us for the races in our lives
Coach Kilbreth was inducted into the South Carolina Coaches Hall of Fame in 2005
Presented by the Spartanburg High School Cross Country Alumni

Paul Groce (800 state champion in 1982) stated, about summer training and Kilbreth's diligence, "We ran, we bonded, we grew." "It is absolutely amazing how tight you become with guys you run thousands (literally) of miles with. That first summer - coach demanded we meet every morning in the SHS parking lot at 7:30. That is daunting for 16-year olds. But...We did it. Day after day, summer after summer. Each day, coach would show at 7:25 and announce the route. Then, we would guess where he would be lurking. In his red Toyota, he would drive out and watch us, jumping unannounced from some bush or know to say, \"pick it up... Work that hill\". Always there, always in our minds.\"

\"Coach Kilbreth is the kind of coach that inspires you to perform,\" Whitlock (Class of 1982) stated. \"You want to give it all for him. He does not intimidate his runners. He is not mean or demeaning. He makes you find that place within yourself - that place where in a race you teeter between giving up and slowing down just a little to get out of the pain and pushing yourself further into the pain. He causes you to make the choice to push harder. Once you can get comfortable at that place you learn to push a little harder. You initially push further into pain for him, for yourself, and for the team. You learn that later in life the skills are transferrable to your career and what you want to achieve. He instilled great discipline in me and my teammates. He taught me about preparedness and that with great preparedness great achievment is possible. The character lessons he taught me helped me finish Furman, complete law school, and helped me to be a well prepared trial lawyer.\"

\"I began running in high school because I was a wrestler and I wanted to improve my wrestling stamina. As a ninth grader I was the starting wrestler at 129 pounds on the Spartanburg H.S. Varsity Team. I remember meeting Coach Kilbreth and I remember our first work out. A four mile run. I finished in the upper middle of the pack and I knew this sport could be for me.\" \"As a tenth grader we ran 400 miles during the Summer and we finished fourth in the State,\" said Whitlock. \"The next two Summers we ran either 450 or 500 and the next two years we finished first in the State. My senior year I finished fifth overall in the State Meet behind my teammate Steve Conway. My senior year I was named MVP by my peers and Steve Conway, myself, and another runner Eddie Long represented the state of South Carolina at Nationals in Indianapolis. In the summers we went to running camp. There we ran three times a day on the incredibly steep hills along the Chatooga River. After that week, hills in races became a place to drop other runners. I was not a natural runner. I recall bending coach\'s ear about not being a naturally gifted runner. Coach looked at me and said, \"You are not a great natural runner. You are a competitor.\" He went on to tell me that there were only a few naturally great runners and that the rest were like me, competitors. Rather than demoralizing me, this insight gave me great comfort. I stopped looking at myself as lacking something. I realized that my competitiveness was a quality completely in my control.\"

Comments read about Eileen Kilbreth:
This course is dedicated to Eileen Kilbreth
Our coach, confidante, and friend
Dedicated to her sport
Devoted to her runners
Her quiet grace and determination inspired us
Because of her guidance and support
We learned how to win in running and in life

"When Coach Kilbreth arrived at SHS, football was king, cross country was an unknown and track and field was primarily a sprinter\'s haven... an incubator for football," said Groce, a 1:55 800 runner. "Then, along comes (Jim) Kilbreth. Within a year, like a magnet, he attracted talent. He had the glow of a driver, a mentor and a winner."

As Jim was prepared to start the race, another visitor showed at the event. "Bill Barnet, the Mayor of Spartanburg, then stepped out of the crowd," said Conway (Class of 1982). "Mayor Barnet said a few words, and read a proclamation that was passed by the Spartanburg City Council."

Read the proclamation (PDF)

\"The last two weeks have been awesome, with the Hall of Fame induction on July 24, the dedication of the cross country course to us on Aug. 5, and our 40th wedding anniversary on Aug. 7,\" said the Kilbreths.

"Some of these alumni live in New Jersey, Michigan, New York City, Costa Rica, and Germany, among other places," Conway noted.

Conway attended the University of Florida (Class of 1987) following his tenure at Spartanburg. Conway holds the school record in the 800 and region 2-4A record. "Coach K. says our team still has the all-time fastest 4x800 relay in state history," said Conway.

"By 1979, his emerging team consisted of assorted personalities and backgrounds," Groce said. "We were from the various corners of the SHS demographical universe. A varsity swimmer, a star tennis player, a football player, an accomplished wrestler, a soccer player, a couple of near-1600 SAT types, some doctors\' kids, some poor kids and others from every walk of like. However, we all had one thing in common. We were attracted by the opportunity to do what few others SHS football program had, in 1979, never done-attain a level of athletic excellence and win at the state level year after year," stated Groce.?

Along with his accomplishments in high school Conway still holds the fifth fastest 5,000-meter time in University of Florida history (14:05). Conway is now the cross-country coach at Spartanburg Christian. Spartanburg Christian is a A-AA member of SCISA. \"Without his coaching I would have never been able to run at the University of Florida, and certainly his influence affects the way I coach my (small) team,\" said Conway.

According to Conway an important part of the proclamation is that "Aug. 5, 2005 was Jim and Eileen Kilbreth Day in Spartanburg."

"After the race, which the alumni won, 20-40, everyone went to a local pool and had a light supper and said a few words about Coach Kilbreth," Conway stated.

"The speakers on Friday talked about how the Kilbreths affected their day-to-day lives even though some are in their 30s and their 40s," said Conway.

Conway's daughter, Elizabeth, a 2004 Dorman graduate is now attending Furman University for the second year and is preparing for her first season on the Paladins cross country team.

The next step for the group of alumni is the proposal of naming the course officially after the coaching duo. To do this, the alumni group has sent a letter writing campaign to Wilson. This proposal also requires action by the school board.

\"We won with class and we lost with class,\" said Whitlock. \"When we won we congratulated the other team on its effort. When we lost we were expected to congratuate the other team on its efforts. Famous Coach K. statements are \"Go Group\", \"Get Over It\", and \"How Sweet It Is\". Most of we were a group of friends.\"

"I reflect today and 25 years later appreciate coach\'s wisdom. While other coaches gave rousing speeches and verbally demanded action from their athletes, Coach Kilbreth demanded AND MANANAGED us," said Groce. "He monitored us, he observed us, he statistically tracked us. Knowing each and every one of us so well, he was able to work to pull a different string to make each one of us better individually, but always working to ensure the team as a whole was better and better. There are (in my opinion) several differenting leadership actions coach took to create the tone that resulted in phenominal success:

1- He managed. Management takes time. Rather than wait in an air conditioned office for us to return from long runs, Coach put the miles on the car to be with us...step after step and mile after mile.

2- He allowed us freedom and forced us to grow as leaders. Balance existed. Coach (I suspect intentionally) was not a micromanager. Instead, he taught us to be responsible and, over the course of a season, slowly withdrew and let the team\'s informal student leaders take over and self-police. I am convinced that the internal leadership of our teams, cultivated by Kilbreth, was the difference between winning and losing.

3- He taught us to work as a team. Everything we did was as a team. I recall several of the other top SC teams who, in the early \'80s, had one or two top runners. In some cases, the coaches would break their superstars out and train them differently from the others. In every case, those teams ran as individuals...their superstar(s) out fast, their No. 4, 5, 6 and 7 runners left to suffer and do as well as they could alone. At SHS we ALWAYS ran as a seven person team for the first 1.5 miles. I recall at the Meyers Park Invitational...with almost 500 runners at the line, our team stuck together, the seven of us passing hundreds of individual runners en-masse. The psychological impact was unbelievable. All the while, Coach K would be heard in the distance, booming, \"GOOOOOO GROOOOUUUUUUPPPPPP\". The same strategy was employed in every race. Our No. 1 and 2 runners sacrificed opportunities to win races, but we excelled as a team, all seven of us placing in the top 20 in the State Meet in 1981.

4- He worked us hard! I will never forget my first 12x800m workout and the blisters that resulted from it. It was on a 95 degree September day. I hurt worse than I ever imagined I could. But... The next race was cake. I was happy to be able to run 3.1 miles with "The Group." It was much easier than the previous Monday\'s workout.

5- He cared for us and saw that running led to opportunities in life. The top 12 runners from both the Championship 1980 and 1981 teams all (per my notes) attended college, all (I think) graduated, and many attended elite colleges and universities made possible partly by their successes in cross country. SHS graduates from the early-mid 1980s attended Dartmouth, Harvard, The US Naval Academy, Wake Forest, West Point, Furman, Clemson, and Florida to name a few."

"Coach was a constant presence," Groce said. We learned in those summer runs to never let down, to never slack, to never be lazy. "It seems simple, but what a lesson. Sure, running was fun. But, we constantly had this nagging fear that Coach would catch us slacking. So, we pushed. Always. Lazy..Never. Fear of embarrassment and disappointing a man who gave so much to us pushed us farther and farther, faster and faster. I cannot tell you what a valuable life lesson that taught me--- always perform as though someone is watching you. The moment you let down, the moment you slack off, the proverbial coach will appear around the corner and catch you."

\"We touched a lot of people in our coaching careers, and pushed them very hard to succeed,\" said the Kilbreths. \"We would not trade anything for those days, and found out many of the former runners would not either.........they are just first class people, and we were fortunate enough to be able to coach them.\"

\"Coach Kilbreth was my first mentor,\" said Whitlock. \"When I think about the values I stand up for ... truth, character, authenticity, quality, respect, and sacrifice... I can trace those values directly to the man I met the summer of my 10th grade year. No coach I have ever had sacrificed for his team the way Coach Kilbreth did. He gave of his time completely. He gave of his weekends, his weeks, and anytime we wanted to talk. He wanted us to not only be the best team in South Carolina but to be the best in the nation. He allowed us to test ourselves against the best. We were fortunate to be able to travel to Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, and Indiana and to put ourselves against the best in the Southeast and then in the nation. My teammates were my large family,\" said Whitlock.

\"Looking in my senior yearbook I count 32 runners. We had more than that. Some did not make the picture and some where in junior high school. We were the size of some high school\'s football teams. We had very different backgrounds black, white, poor, rich, liberals, and conservatives. We had great discussion of politics and policy. We were inspired by the B-52s, Devo, Elvis Costello, and the Rolling Stones. Often a coach\'s success can be measured by the number of young men who are drawn to him. Coach has always had large teams of young runners who want to be around him, to learn from him, and to be inspired by him.\"

\"Another measure of a coach\'s greatness is what becomes of his runner once they leave his tutiledge. \"Just in my three years at Spartanburg High School former runners attended Dartmouth, West Point, Annapolis, Yale, Michigan, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Furman and Wofford. We have many medical doctors, lawyers, CPAs, and leaders of industry that were teammates of mine those three years.\"