Eric Townsend, track and field coach for Milbank High School, was named the Area 1 Class A Head Coach of the Year for 2021 by the South Dakota Cross Country and Track and Field Coaches Association (SDCCTFCA).
Townsend led the MHS boys’ track team to a runner-up finish at South Dakota’s state meet last spring. He also led the girls’ team to first place in the Region 1A tournament (by a 60-point margin) and 10th place at the state meet.
Townsend has been the head track and field coach at MHS for 11 years. Prior to that, he was an assistant track and field coach at Milbank for nine years. He says he realizes each event has a unique difficulty, but finds the field events the hardest to coach because of their technical aspects.
“It is extremely important as a coach — especially as a track and field coach — to continue to learn and find new ways to improve,” he says, “Building relationships is another important skill a successful track and field coach needs.”
Townsend has experienced track and field from both sides of the clipboard. He participated in cross country, basketball, and track and field in high school and cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field in college.
His assistant coaches also have a long history of involvement in the sport. ”Back in 2005, when I was an assistant coach,” Coach Townsend says, “We won the boys’ state track and field title. Two of our assistant coaches now, Ryan Conrad and Josh Schmeichel, were on that team.”
He says the SDCCTFCA has helped him to grow as a coach by organizing coaching clinics throughout the school year and during the summer. It also promotes the sports of cross country and track and field, and it relays information to the South Dakota High School Athletic Association (SDHSAA) regarding coaches’ concerns and ideas.
If you’ve ever heard Coach Townsend use the term “watering the bamboo,” you’ve probably heard him say it a hundred times. He says his coaching philosophy has always included striving to be our best at the end-of-the-season meets. ‘Nobody really remembers how you did at the beginning of the season. ‘Watering the bamboo’ and working hard takes time and you don’t see results immediately.”
Lately, he says he has been enjoying being a spectator during the Olympics. “It’s fun watching all the different sports. Some of them I didn’t even realize were Olympic sports. Of course, I especially like watching the track and field events.”
And, although he is getting a break and watching other coaches; watching is never as fun as doing. “I am particularly excited for next season because we have a great group of athletes returning,” he says. “ And, the state track meet will be a three-day event held in Sioux Falls.”