When you talk about the true “running” sports in the Tri-County Area — cross country and track & field — you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who has dedicated more time to those ventures or coached to truly benefit his athletes more than Tom Shade, who has been caoching since the 1970s.
However, Shade actually got his start in coaching in other sports at General McLane when he coached for their junior high football and wrestling programs.
He was hired as a teacher at Brockway in 1979 and was a volunteer assistant with freshman football and coached the junior high wrestling program for the Rovers.
“I had a lot to learn and two outstanding coaches (Reckner and Bernardo) gave me great advice I would use many years later, and one of them was ‘to be a good coach, you need to be a good teacher,’” said Shade. “Looking back, they were exactly right, along with their other great qualities, and it took some years for that to sink in for me.”
Shade started cross country and track & field programs at Brockway in the 1980s. The Rovers had their own cross country course but no true track facilities to train at.
“We had no facilities, but we had big support from the Superintendent James Manners, who was thrilled that someone wanted to introduce the sport to the students,” said Shade. “Being young, crazy, and with no family yet, I took on both varsity teams and junior high teams at the same time with another assistant. The school bought all the throwing implements and vault poles, and Brockway Glass made hurdles out of conduit pipes.”
However, all that ended in 1983 when Shade was among a group of teachers furloughed that year due to financial concerns in the school district.
Shade later resurfaced as a teacher at DuBois Area, and by that time had started a family. He and his wife worked opposite shifts at the time, so his coaching then consisted of his children’s youth soccer teams, as well as youth baseball and midget football through the 1980s-1990s. He also volunteered with the high school track team when he had time.
In 2004, Shade was asked to be an assistant by DAHS boys track & field head coach Brian Clinger and focused on the throwing events — helping athletes on both the boys and girls teams.
“It was here that I developed much of the philosophy that would guide my future coaching to the present day: building programs to the next level, and seeing the value of all the athletes, no matter what their gifts are,” said Shade. “It helped that Coach (Scott) Sullivan (girls coach) and Coach Clinger were both serious, competitive coaches who had already brought the track programs to a higher point. And, they both appreciated the long hours I put in.”
Shade eventually took over the DuBois cross country program as head coach in 2010 after Sullivan stepped down in his role as a dual-sport head coach. Shade guided the program until 2014 when he stepped aside as head coach but stayed on board as an assistant.
That decision also was the springboard to his current position as the head coach of both the cross country and track & field programs at DCC — both of which were resurrected because of Shade’s hiring.
He restarted the track program in 2014 and is a program that has a co-op with Brockway which has helped in producing more participants as well as district champs. The cross country program saw its resurgence in 2015.
Shade has coached six District 9 champions since reviving the program, and his teams have won 24 dual meets since 2016. That may not seem like a large total, but prior to 2016, there was no track team in the state that had ever lost to DCC. He also has watched as 102 school records across all 18 events have been set during his tenure.
He credits several assistants along the way in helping build the DCC track program to where it is. Some of those include Rusty Meyers, Andy Skraba, Jim Godlewski, Ed Williams and Jordan Stonebreaker and a few DAHS alumni or coaches that had the time to help.
Shade took the time to answer a few questions about himself for our new series spotlighting area high school coaches in all sports:
The reason I enjoy coaching is ... I love meeting the athletes and their families, and the coaches I work with. It is a great thing to share and be a part of the positive experiences they have that only sports can offer. Also I feel, as a catholic and Christian, that we have a calling to give back to our communities as much as we are able, and the hard work of coaching certainly puts that belief to the test. I also enjoy building sports programs where the opportunity, or need, exists.
The hardest thing about coaching is ... There are many challenges to coaching, but the hardest thing at this time is balancing time and energy with my spouse, kids and grandchildren, plus the reality that I am not 40 years young anymore. Another challenge would be trying to take a program to the next level.
As gratifying as it is looking back, the building of DAHS XC and DCC track required an energy, time, and headaches that I might be reluctant to tackle again. Finding adequate staff for DCC track was given an honest effort and then some, but until this season we had a lot of strikeouts. The kids are all deserving of a coach’s time and assistance in practice and competition but having inadequate staff made that nearly impossible at times.
Having no facilities of your own is a huge challenge. We end up asking a lot more from the athletes than you ever would from a school with a track they can practice on at 3 p.m. and compete on as well. I find it hard when I think about the obstacles they need to overcome, but then they have still exceeded expectations over the years. They rose to the challenge.
In the sports I coach there have been a lot of pre-conceived notions. I fought for years as a coach at the public school over the fact that we had two separate varsity teams of good size and that we needed a coach for each team. It wasn’t until the teams were forced into two separate districts in postseason that they hired an assistant. And, there are still tons of people who think track and cross country are the same sport. It seems trivial, but when you are trying to build programs it is just one more obstacle to bust through.
The biggest reason I continue to coach is ... because I feel it is a worthwhile way to give back to our youth and community. Cross country and track are very old, traditional and international sports, and I hate to think of all the kids that would miss out on the experience if the program did not exist. I have seen many lives changed from the success found in these two sports. It’s fun to be a part of it.
My real job outside of coaching is ... right now is to take care of an infant and 5-year old for 8 hours every day, and sometimes weekends ... Hardest job I ever loved. As I expect the athletes to keep their priorities straight (God/family/academics), I try to do the same. We expect a level of commitment but also recognize the wholistic reality that there is a lot more to life than a sport.
If I leave the coaching ranks, it will be because I cannot responsibly balance family with coaching.
The person(s) who influenced me to get into coaching ... I had many mentors. My high school and college coaches were excellent, so I came away with a very high opinion of coaches. If I had to pick one person, it would likely be Coach Joe Lisek, a legend in District 10 and a past Chairman of the district. He happened to be my physical education teacher as well. After college, I worked at the same school for a short time and he urged me to get into coaching and give back in that way. He was a real ‘difference maker’ in the Erie area for thousands of children.
My favorite team/season or game that stands out me is ... It is very, very difficult to single out only one team or season that stands out. I am tempted to focus on the high achieving track teams of 2016 at DCC or the powerhouse teams of 2013 as a cross country head coach, but I will give the nod to the 2011 cross country girls team at DAHS for setting the foundation of many great things to come in the program.
“The leadership, the victories, the camaraderie, the discipline, fun and friendships set the tone and the standards for the years ahead. The boys did well that year as well. We had record numbers too, and cross country never looked back. The goal was to build the program, and without those runners I do not think it would have happened.”
One final thing(s) I’d like to add is ... I am a very active Knight of Columbus locally and have served as a local leader and district leader. Using the same philosophy I would later use as a coach, I built the local council in the late 1990s when it had all but disbanded. We are now, arguably, the finest council in the district.
Not a day goes by I don’t play chess. I miss playing students at the school in study halls or chess clubs. And, until I got over age 60, I could run with just about anyone on the teams I coached. Injuries come more frequently now, but the lungs are still like age 20.
I am writing a history of DuBois area sports to 1894 (pre-scholastic) and also separate histories of cross country and track in the area from 1895 to present.
I (also) am an avid genealogist and play a part in the historical society’s lantern walk every year. This year it is an Italian store owner from the 1960s.