COLUMBIA CITY — Athletic programs sometimes become known for their coaches.
When people think about Columbia City cross country or girls track, they think of Bob Fahl.
After 48 years in the classroom, 34 years of coaching cross country and 28 years as the girls track head coach — Fahl is retiring.
Fahl started teaching at Columbia City in 1970. He was helping his wife coach speech and debate when he came to a realization in 1976.
“All I could see was, ‘I’m sitting inside on a beautiful day,’” said Fahl.
That was the spark he needed to get outside and start coaching.
Fahl, a runner in high school and one year at college, started out as an assistant. In 1982, he was hired as the cross country coach. That was also the first year that girls ran cross country, and they ran with the boys team. Fahl coached the team to the state finals in his first season.
For six years, Fahl coached the cross country teams and waited for his opportunity to be the girls track coach. He was given the assistant track coaching position in 1988 and, two years later, he was promoted to head coach.
Just like in cross country, the success was immediate. In his first year as the Lady Eagles head track coach, the team won both the conference and the sectional title.
“It was fun,” said Fahl of the early winning. “We started to get more kids come out.”
In cross country, the teams have had five state appearances and four runners from Columbia City have been named first-team all-state. On the track, Fahl had a female runner finish second in the state four times.
“We were working with some pretty good kids here,” said Fahl.
Things have changed a lot since Fahl took over. The coach reminisced about holding personal seed meetings with other coaches the week of races to determine rankings. Then the coaches would get a letter in the mail once all the information was finalized.
Fahl also said it has been more difficult to get runners to try out for sports because so many kids want to specialize in one sport instead of playing in multiple sports in high school.
Fahl said he isn’t necessarily ready to walk away from coaching, but he said it requires a lot of time, especially over the summer with cross country.
No track season would be complete for Fahl and the girls track team unless it ended in Bloomington where the state meet is held. That is no different this year. Fahl’s last bit of coaching was when he accompanied the Lady Eagles’ 3,200-meter relay team to the state finals. The team of Eden Oddou, Lauren Keller, Gabby Fry and Lilly Oddou were the last runners on the track for coach Fahl.
Fahl also said he will miss teaching and some of the great kids who have passed through his classroom.
Whoever takes over for Fahl will inherit strong cross country teams and a girls track program that annually features phenomenal athletes. Those coaches will surely have runners qualify for state finals events, but cross country and girls track will always be remembered as the programs that Bob Fahl built and maintained for decades.