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NFHS Selects 2020-21 National Coaches of the Year

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Twenty-three high school coaches from across the country have been selected as 2020-21 National Coaches of the Year by the National Federation of State High School Associations Coaches Association.

The NFHS, which has been recognizing coaches through an awards program since 1982, honors coaches in the top 10 girls sports and top 10 boys sports (by participation numbers), and in two “other” sports – one for boys and one for girls – that are not included in the top 10 listings. The NFHS also recognizes a spirit coach as a separate award category. Winners of NFHS awards must be active coaches during the year for which they receive their award. This year’s awards recognize coaches for the 2020-21 school year.

Recipients of the 2020-21 national awards for boys sports are: John Adair, baseball, Malakoff (Texas) High School; Ron Insinger, basketball, Williamsport (Pennsylvania) Loyalsock Township Senior High School; Jeffrey Howard, cross country, Peninsula (Ohio) Woodridge High School; Rob Zimmerman, 11-player football, DeWitt (Michigan) High School; Holly Lester, golf, Gilbert (Iowa) High School; Samuel “Bunky” Colvin, soccer, Peachtree City (Georgia) McIntosh High School; Christopher Verity, swimming and diving, Endwell (New York) Maine-Endwell High School; Tom O’Brien, tennis, Kansas City (Missouri) Barstow School; Larry Topp, track and field, Minster (Ohio) Local Schools; and Mike Simons, wrestling, Springfield (Oregon) Thurston High School.

The recipients of the 2020-21 NFHS national awards for girls sports are: Jesse Nelson, basketball, Olpe (Kansas) High School; Stanley Johnson, cross country, Moulton (Alabama) Lawrence County High School; Leonard Kull, golf, Washington (Iowa) High School; John Dwyer, lacrosse, Wilmette (Illinois) Loyola Academy; John Hanley, soccer, San Jose (California) Archbishop Mitty High School; Ed McQuade, softball, Phoenix (Arizona) Greenway High School; Stefanie Kerska, swimming and diving, Ann Arbor (Michigan) Pioneer High School; Kristin Liles, tennis, Tulsa (Oklahoma) Cascia Hall Prep School; Dori Whitford, track and field, Spokane (Washington) Mead High School; and Jean LaClair,  volleyball, Bronson (Michigan) High School.

The recipient of the National Coach of the Year Award for spirit is Linda Drust of Cartersville (Illinois) High School. Robert Vance Jones, a 6-player football coach at Balmorhea (Texas) High School, was chosen in the “other” category for boys sports, and Kit Harris, a girls wrestling coach at Baldwin High School in Baldwin City, Kansas, was chosen in the “other” category for girls sports.

The NFHS receives nominations from its member state associations, which often works with the state coaches’ association in its respective state. The state association then contacts the potential state award recipients to complete a coach profile form that requests information regarding the coach’s record, membership in and affiliation with coaching and other professional organizations, involvement with other school and community activities and programs, and coaching philosophy. To be approved as an award recipient and considered for sectional and national coach of the year consideration, this profile form must be completed by the coach or designee and then approved by the executive director (or designee) of the state athletic/activities association.

The next award level after state coach of the year is sectional coach of the year. The NFHS is divided into eight geographical sections. They are as follows: Section 1 – Northeast (CT, ME, MA, NH, NJ, NY, RI, VT); Section 2 – Mideast (DE, DC, KY, MD, OH, PA, VA, WV); Section 3 – South (AL, FL, GA, LA, MS, NC, SC, TN); Section 4 – Central (IL, IN, IA, MI, WI); Section 5 – Midwest (KS, MN, MO, NE, ND, SD); Section 6 – Southwest (AR, CO, NM, OK, TX); Section 7 – West (AZ, CA, HI, NV, UT); and Section 8 – Northwest (AK, ID, MT, OR, WA, WY).

The NFHS Coaches Association has an advisory committee composed of a chair and eight sectional representatives. The sectional committee representatives evaluate the state award recipients from the states in their respective sections and select the best candidates for the sectional award in each sport category. The NFHS Coaches Association Advisory Committee then considers the sectional candidates in each sport, ranks them according to a point system, and determines a national winner for each of the 20 sport categories, the spirit category and two “other” categories.

A total of 660 coaches will be recognized this year with state, sectional and national awards.

Following are biographical sketches of the 23 NFHS National High School Coaches of the Year for 2020-21: 

 

COACHES OF THE YEAR – BOYS SPORTS

Baseball

John Adair

Malakoff, Texas

John Adair retired following the 2021 season, closing the book on a 32-year high school baseball coaching career that comprised more than 600 victories at four different schools, and 20 coach-of-the-year awards from the county, district, regional and state levels. In his final season, Adair’s Malakoff High School squad achieved a storybook ending for their longtime coach, claiming the University Interscholastic League 3A state championship on the strength of a 38-7 record. Adair has been a member of the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association (THSBCA) throughout his entire high school coaching career and has served as its president since 2020. He also spent two years as THSBCA 1st Vice President, one year as assistant secretary, three years as a regional director and six years as a poll director for the 1A to 3A classifications. Adair, who has also coached football and boys and girls basketball at both the junior high and high school levels, refers to his coaching program as “The Spring Training of Life” and strives to instill positive traits in young people to help them become successful and productive adults.

 

Basketball

Ron Insinger

Williamsport, Pennsylvania

Ron Insinger is the all-time winningest high school boys basketball coach in Pennsylvania history, having amassed 984 career victories – and counting – over 47 seasons at Loyalsock Township Senior High School (LTSHS) in Williamsport. While Insinger’s legendary run at Loyalsock includes 38 20-win seasons, 30 league titles, 24 district titles, and 30 coach-of-the-year honors from various outlets, his first state championship did not come until this past season when his Loyalsock Lancers capped a 27-1 campaign with the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association 3A state title. In addition to earning inductions into the West Branch Valley Hall of Fame (2010), Pennsylvania Basketball Hall of Fame (2012), Pennsylvania State Sports Hall of Fame (2017) and Lock Haven University Hall of Fame (2020), Insinger has been lauded by the state Senate and House of Representatives on several occasions for his outstanding service to the game of basketball and to the youth of the Commonwealth. Insinger has also been director of athletics at LTSHS for the past 16 years, and has coached boys soccer, boys and girls track and field, and girls basketball at different times throughout his tenure.

 

Cross Country

Jeffrey Howard

Peninsula, Ohio

Jeffrey Howard has built a cross country dynasty at Peninsula (Ohio) Woodridge High School. In 28 seasons, he has led the Bulldogs to 12 Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) Division II state championships (10 boys, 2 girls), claimed 34 conference championships (17/17) and mentored 51 All-Ohioans (37/14) and 230 state meet qualifiers (116/114). His 10 OHSAA boys state titles, which include stretches of five in a row from 2006 to 2010 and three in a row from 2018 to 2020, are the most for any boys program in state history. His boys teams have won 12 district championships and 12 regional championships and have set the record for lowest combined state meet score, twice. Howard has been boys Metro Athletic Conference coach of the year 18 times, including the past 17 years in a row, and has received the same honor from the Akron Touchdown Club (eight times), OHSAA/Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches (OATCCC) (seven times) and the NFHS (Ohio – three times, Section 2 – 2010). As a result of his outstanding resume, Howard was inducted into the OATCCC Hall of Fame with the class of 2018.

 

Football, 11-player

Rob Zimmerman

DeWitt, Michigan

In his 26th coaching season, Rob Zimmerman guided the DeWitt (Michigan) High School football team to an undefeated 12-0 season and a Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 3 state championship – his first title in five championship game appearances. DeWitt’s sensational season brought a slew of coach-of-the-year (COY) honors for Zimmerman – 10 total – including the USA Today State of Michigan Coach of the Year, Detroit Lions Coach of the Year, three different state COY awards from the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association (MHSFCA) and a runner-up finish for the NFL Don Shula National Coach of the Year award. Counting his 2020 accolade, Zimmerman has been named MHSFCA regional COY 14 times since 2000 and won the Lansing State Journal “Coach of the Decade” distinction for the 2000s. He has turned DeWitt football into one of the most prominent programs in the state with 19 conference championships in his 23 seasons at DHS – including the past 16 in a row – 14 district championships and 12 regional championships. His teams have performed exceptionally well in the classroom, too, receiving 1st team academic all-state honors in each of the past nine seasons.

 

Golf

Holly Lester

Gilbert, Iowa

Holly Lester’s 34th season as the Gilbert (Iowa) High School (GHS) boys golf coach was a display of pure dominance, as her squad won all 15 of its competitive meets (12 regular season, three tournaments), including the program’s first-ever Iowa High School Athletic Association Class 3A state championship. The Tigers’ stellar campaign resulted in Lester’s seventh coach-of-the-year (COY) honor from the Raccoon River Conference, as well as a COY award from the Iowa High School Golf Coaches Association. In addition to seven conference championships, Lester’s teams have won eight sectional championships and four district championships and have posted seven top-five finishes in nine state tournament appearances. Lester started both the boys and girls golf programs at Gilbert in 1988 – opting to focus solely on boys golf beginning with the 1999 season – and has previously coached GHS softball and volleyball during her lengthy career. She also currently coaches winter cheer and girls basketball at Gilbert Middle School, and has drawn on her experience at different levels of coaching to develop her coaching philosophy, which is focused on valuing and preparing all athletes for competition regardless of their skill level.

 

Soccer

Samuel “Bunky” Colvin

Peachtree City, Georgia

Samuel “Bunky” Colvin, of Peachtree City (Georgia) McIntosh High School, has been a high school soccer coach for 26 years, including the past 22 years as a head coach. Colvin has been awarded numerous coach-of-the-year awards at various distinctions including three national awards, two regional awards and 16 state-level awards. In addition to leading his team to seven state championships, he has amassed a record of 400 wins and just 58 losses, including a 22-1 record this past season. Also an American Government teacher at McIntosh, Colvin holds a master’s degree in educational leadership and was named McIntosh teacher of the year in 2004 where he has served as a mentor teacher and a supervising teacher for student teachers.

Swimming and Diving

Christopher Verity

Endwell, New York

Christopher Verity, of Endwell (New York) Maine-Endwell High School, has been a varsity high school swimming and diving coach since 1993. First at Johnson City High School, Verity led the boys program until 2009 while also coaching the girls team from 2006 until 2010. At Maine-Endwell, Verity began as an assistant in 2010 and has led the boys program at Maine-Endwell since 2015. He also assumed the position of head coach for the girls program in 2011 where he continues to lead both teams. Since 2003, at least one individual or relay team from Verity’s teams have advanced to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Boys Swimming and Diving State Championships each season (41 different qualifiers). Verity has also led his teams to five state championships.

Tennis

Tom O’Brien

Kansas City, Missouri

Tom O’Brien, of Kansas City (Missouri) Barstow School, has been a high school tennis coach since 1978, including stints as the Barstow School girls and boys coach since 2006 and 2008, respectively. First at Hickman Mills High School, O’Brien served as the junior varsity basketball coach (1973-80), head golf coach (1975-2005) and head girls tennis coach (1978-2004). While at Barstow, O’Brien’s teams have been perennial contenders and have accumulated more than 325 wins, which includes several state tournament appearances and championships. In 2013, he was named both the Coach of the Year for Missouri and the NFHS Sectional Coach of the Year (Midwest Section).

Track and Field

Larry Topp

Minster, Ohio

Larry Topp, of Minster (Ohio) Local Schools, has been a high school boys track and field coach for more than 40 seasons. Topp was the recipient of the Ohio Association of Track and Cross County Coaches 2021 Coach of the Year Award, and he received a similar honor in 2012 when he was selected as the 2012 Fred Dafler State Coach of the Year for Ohio. Locally, Topp has been tabbed for 15 track league coach-of-the-year awards with the most recent coming in 2021. In cross country, Topp was named as a league coach of the year 13 times, most recently in 2021. Topp is a retired teacher, an active bus driver and also continues to coach cross country.

Wrestling

Mike Simons

Springfield, Oregon

Mike Simons, of Springfield (Oregon) Thurston High School, has been a high school wrestling coach for 25 years, including the last 18 at Thurston. Simons has made a push to increase participation numbers, and he now has about 80 wrestlers – 45 boys and 35 girls – attending practice each day. Since 2018, the Thurston boys team has finished among the top four teams at the state championships, and the Thurston girls program has an active streak of four consecutive state championships. Simons has collected a record of 312 wins with just 76 losses. He was named the 2019 NFHS Coach of the Year for girls wrestling in Oregon, as well as the sectional honor. In 2013, Simons – through fundraising and community involvement – established the Thurston Middle School boys and girls wrestling program.

 

COACHES OF THE YEAR – GIRLS SPORTS

 

Basketball

Jesse Nelson

Olpe, Kansas

            Jesse Nelson ended his outstanding 44-year high school coaching career in grand style, leading the Olpe High School girls basketball team to a perfect 25-0 record and the Kansas State High School Activities Association Class IA Girls Basketball Championship. Nelson retired in May 2021 as the all-time winningest basketball coach – girls or boys – in Kansas state history with 951 wins and 111 losses – an amazing winning mark of 89.5 percent. Nelson earned five KSHSAA state championships and registered five undefeated seasons. His teams appeared in the state tournament 30 times and won 31 league championships. Nelson also won 394 games as the district’s junior high girls basketball coach, and he also coached junior high and high school girls track and field. Nelson was the 2014 USA Today America’s Girls Basketball Coach National Champion and the 2016 McDonald’s All-American Team head coach. This past year, he was named coach of the year by the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association.    

 

Cross Country

Stanley Johnson

Moulton, Alabama

            In addition to coaching girls cross country at Lawrence County High School in Moulton, Alabama, Johnson also coaches boys cross country as well as junior high girls and boys cross country. He has led his teams to eight Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) boys state cross country championships and seven AHSAA girls state titles for a total of 15 overall championships. Johnson’s teams have finished as state runner-up eight other times. On three occasions – 2003, 2014 and 2015 – his boys and girls teams have claimed state titles the same year. Johnson has involved his teams in numerous community service projects during his 31 years coaching the sport. He uses cross country as a means of reaching out to any student who is willing to “buy-in” to the program and to become a well-rounded person. He uses the sport to “enhance a child’s life and to help bring revenue to our community. My theme is ‘not no, but how.’”   

 

Golf

Leonard Kull

Washington, Iowa

            Leonard Kull has been a teacher, coach and official in Iowa for more than 50 years. In addition to coaching football and wrestling, Kull coaches girls golf and has led his teams to six Iowa girls golf state championships. He has been selected Iowa Class 4 Coach of the Year four times (2008, 2015, 2016, 2018), and he has been honored as district coach of the year 12 times. In addition to coaching three sports, Kull has been a science and chemistry teacher, as well as a contest official. Kull officiated baseball and softball from 1972 to 1995, and he has officiated volleyball since 1995. He has been a member of the Washington Officials Association since 1972, including a term as president. Kull said he considered coaching young people to be “an absolute privilege. Golf is an individual game, but I found that if team members concentrated on team successes before individual accomplishments, individual success took care of itself.”

 

Lacrosse

John Dwyer

Wilmette, Illinois

            John Dwyer has coached the girls lacrosse team at Loyola Academy in Wilmette, Illinois, to 12 state championships in his 21 years at the school, including nine consecutive titles at one stretch. His team won the 2021 state title with a perfect 25-0 record, a team that included his oldest granddaughter. Dwyer’s overall record in 21 years is 445 victories and 61 losses – a winning mark of 87 percent. His 2021 undefeated team was ranked No. 8 in the final USA Lacrosse Magazine poll and No. 4 in the final MaxPreps poll. Dywer has been selected coach of the year two times by the Illinois High School Women’s Lacrosse Association. More than 100 of Dwyer’s players have advanced to college lacrosse, and he has coached all six of his children at some point during his career. Dwyer has been a member of the Illinois High School Women’s Lacrosse Association for 17 years, and he is a former member of the NFHS Girls Lacrosse Rules Committee.

 

Soccer

John Hanley

San Jose, California

            John Hanley has coached high school girls soccer for 26 years and has compiled a 450-67 career record. Currently the girls soccer coach at Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose, California, Hanley has led his teams to nine California Interscholastic Federation-Central Coast Section (CIF-CCS) championships, including eight at Archbishop Mitty since taking over the program in 2007. Hanley previously coached at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, California, and led that school to its first girls soccer CIF-North Coast Section championship. Hanley has been an associate national staff coach with the United Soccer Coaches (formerly NSCAA) since 1999. He also serves as a coach educator for USC, organizing and running courses ranging from fundamentals of soccer coaching to special courses. Hanley was named high school coach of the year twice by the San Jose Mercury News, and he was CCS Coach of the Year twice by Prep2Prep.com. Last year, he was a CIF-CCS Honor Coach.     

           

Softball

Ed McQuade

Phoenix, Arizona

For more than 40 years, Ed McQuade has led the Phoenix (Arizona) Greenway High School softball program to nearly 900 wins and five state championships. McQuade has led his teams to the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) state tournament in 39 of 41 seasons and been named AIA State Softball Coach of the Year five times. He currently serves on the AIA Softball Advisory Committee after previously serving from 2013 to 2018. McQuade, who is a member of the Arizona High School Athletic Coaches Hall of Fame, has guided 56 players to 36 different four-year universities, including three who are current Division I head coaches.

 

Swimming and Diving

Stefanie Kerska

Ann Arbor, Michigan

Stefanie Kerska has been the head coach of the Ann Arbor (Michigan) Pioneer High School girls swimming and diving program since 2015 (she has also led the boys program since 2014). In that short time, she has led the two programs to three Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) state championships, including back-to-back girls titles in 2020 and 2021. She was named MHSAA Swimming Coach of the Year for both girls and boys in 2021. Prior to coming to Pioneer, Kerska was an assistant coach at the University of Michigan and was a member of the USA Swimming National Team coaching staff from 2008 to 2016.

Tennis

Kristen Liles

Tulsa, Oklahoma

In 2021, Kristen Liles led the Tulsa (Oklahoma) Cascia Hall Prep School boys and girls tennis teams to Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association (OSSAA) state championships, bringing her total of state titles to 11 during her 18-year coaching career. The Tulsa World and the OSSAA named Liles the Girls Coach of the Year for 2021, and the Oklahoma Coaches Association named her the Class 4A Boys Tennis Coach of the Year. In addition to team championships, Liles has guided 21 girls and 26 boys to individuals state championships. She is a member of the Oklahoma Tennis Coaches Association and has been elected to its Advisory Board five times.

Track and Field

Dori Whitford

Spokane, Washington

Since 1986, Dori Whitford has led the girls track and field program at Spokane (Washington) Mead High School with a simple motto: “Focus on working hard, doing our best and having fun, and the winning will take care of itself.” It’s a motto that helped Whitford lead Mead to a 2010 Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) Class 4A girls state championship, and to success in numerous other sports as well. In addition to track and field, she has coached the cross country team since 2006 and earned her league’s Cross Country Coach of the Year honor in 2020. Whitford is also a fixture in the local track community, organizing and directing multiple races and meets in the Spokane area.

Volleyball

Jean LaClair

Bronson, Michigan

Jean LaClair has led the Bronson (Michigan) High School volleyball program since 2000, garnering more than 1,200 wins and five Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) state championships. Behind LaClair’s leadership, Bronson won four consecutive championships from 2015 to 2018. Her honors include the Michigan High School Coaches Association (MHSCA) Volleyball Coach of the Year in 2010, a finalist for the National High School Athletic Coaches Association Coach of the Year in 2011 and the 2019 MHSAA Allen W. Bush Award. As Bronson’s athletic director, LaClair has served as an National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) Delegate twice and earned the NIAAA State Award of Merit in 2019.

COACHES OF THE YEAR – OTHER SPORTS

Girls Spirit

Linda Drust

Cartersville, Illinois

When Linda Drust left competitive cheer in 1987 to further her career in school administration, she knew she would coach again. And she likely saved her best for her second stint. Since returning in 2011, and becoming head coach in 2012, Drust has had Cartersville (Illinois) High School contending each year for a state championship. After qualifying for six-consecutive Illinois High School Association (IHSA) Competitive Cheer State Finals, Drust and her Cartersville squad won the championship in 2019-20. The win was one of three team championships guided by Drust during her career. In 2020 and 2021, Cartersville captured back-to-back IHSA Sectional Championships. In 2019, Cartersville came up just short (.04 points) of winning the Illinois Cheerleading Coaches Association (ICCA) Championship. Drust has been a member of ICCA since she returned to coaching 2011. She is also one of the original board members of the Illinois High School Cheerleading Coaches Association (IHSCCO), and is in her third year as co-mentor chair. In that officer role, Drust is responsible for organizing and facilitating a statewide mentoring program, which currently includes more than 20 new coaches.

Boys Other – 6-Player Football

Robert Vance Jones

Balmorhea, Texas

For 51 years, Vance Jones has walked the sidelines of high school gridirons as a coach, amassing more than 175 victories. In January 2021, he helped bring Balmorhea (Texas) High School its first state championship when his Bears defeated Richland Springs, 74-38, in the University Interscholastic League (UIL) Conference 1A Six-Man Division 2 State Championship. With the win, Jones became the third coach in UIL history to win state championships at three different schools, joining Pete Shotwell (Abilene, Breckenridge and Longview) and Terry Cron (Bartlett, Mart and Commerce). Jones, who was named the 2020 Texas Six-Man Division 2 Coach of the Year, has four state championships to his name. His first came with Sanderson High School in 1976, and later in back-to-back seasons (2009, 2010) with Garden City High School. His coaching prowess also helped him earn Texas Six-Man Division 1 Coach of the Year honors during his two-year title run with Garden City. In 2020, the Texas Six-Man Coaches Association – of which Jones is also a member – inducted him into its hall of fame. Jones has previously served as a member of the Texas Girls Coaches Association and Texas High School Coaches Association.

Kit Harris

Other – Girls Wrestling

Baldwin City, Kansas

The illustrious 28-year coaching tenure of Kit Harris ramped up in 1999 when he assumed head wrestling coach duties at his alma mater, Baldwin High School, in Baldwin City, Kansas. Upon departing Class 6A Washburn Rural High School, Harris grew Baldwin into a perennial power in both boys and girls wrestling. In only the second year it was offered, Baldwin won the 2021 Kansas State High School Activities Association (KSHSAA) Girls Wrestling State Championship. In 2015, Harris was at the helm of a squad that captured the KSHSAA Boys Wrestling State Championship. The two team titles are accompanied by the eight individual state champions, 17 state finalists and 56 state placers coached by Harris. His career includes 271 all-time victories, in addition to recognition as a five-time Lawrence Journal-World Coach of the Year (2002, 2007, 2008, 2015, 2021) and three-time KSHSAA Class 4A Coach of the Year (2002, 2015, 2021). On three occasions (2007, 2015, 2021), Harris was also honored as the Kansas Coaches Association Coach of the Year and NFHS Midwest Section Coach of the Year. Harris has served as the Team Kansas Cadet Freestyle/Greco Coach for seven years, in addition to three terms as Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association (KWCA) president. USA Today named him a finalist for its “Most Caring Coach in America” award in 2015.

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