Hall of Fame coach Ron Keller is back at the helm of Durango High School’s cross-country teams.
Keller coached the Demons from 1978 to 2002 in cross-country and track.
He led the Demons to eight team state championships in boys and girls cross-country, and seven of his teams had runner-up finishes. He was named the Colorado High School Coaches Association cross-country coach of the year in 1994 and 1998 and was enshrined in the CHSCA Hall of Fame in 2014.
Keller, however, returned to coaching a few years ago, volunteering at first and then for the past three years has been an assistant DHS track coach, working as the team’s distance coach.
In the end, he missed the kids.
“I like the kids, they’re very enthusiastic about everything they do, and I just enjoy being around them,” he said.
“I’m just excited for our students to work with a coach of his caliber,” said district athletic director Ryan Knorr. “It’s pretty exciting to have him back in that role.”
As the track team’s distance coach, Keller already knows many of the athletes he’ll coach in cross-country.
He said he thinks the boys team will rebuild this year, and the girls team, which returns a half-dozen proven girls, will be able to reload this season. The boys finished 11th as a team last year at the Class 4A state meet, and the girls finished third.
His goal for DHS, he said, is to be better than Niwot, which is one of the best programs in Colorado and in the nation. In the past four years, Niwot girls have won four Class 4A state titles and finished in the top five in the nation twice, and its boys have won two state titles. Getting there, Keller admitted, will take some work.
“It will be a tough challenge,” Keller said. “I think a lot of coaches don’t even think about (beating Niwot), but that’s the attitude you’ve got to have to instill it in the kids.”
To get there, it will take more than running hard during the fall.
“There needs to be some cultural changes. Distance (track) and cross-country need to be one program, doing the same thing all year with the same goals,” Keller said. “In my opinion, that’s the way it needs to be. You can’t just coach a season, drop it and come back nine months later.”
He also plans to implement changes this season. He wants his athletes competing more and said the team will run in 10 regular-season races this year, up from five last year.
“Those become their best workouts every week,” he said.
The team also will lift weights for 30 minutes every practice before running, doing nonstop circuits in the weight room.
He said culture also includes “everything” – from attending practice and raising the intensity level at practice, to maintaining their best behavior on the bus, in motels and at restaurants.
Some members of the team have been participating in voluntary workouts this summer, but the teams will have their first official practice of the season on Monday, along with most other DHS sports. The cross-country team will then do a mountain retreat in Cascade Village the following week, getting in five practices in three days at roughly 8,800 to 9,500 feet above sea level, right before its first meet.
The team will begin its season Aug. 19 at Grand Junction Central.
“I’m very excited about it,” Keller said.