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Greeno was legendary boys cross country coach

By John Gillis on September 11, 2014 blog Print

For 40 years, Rich Greeno distinguished himself as the greatest high school boys cross country and track coach in South Dakota – and also as one of the all-time best in the nation.

Greeno, who graduated from Langford (South Dakota) High School in 1946, subsequently graduated from Northern (South Dakota) State University in 1950. At a trim 5-foot-8 and 140 pounds, Greeno played several sports in high school and then participated in college football, basketball and track.

After earning his college degree, Greeno started his coaching career at Philip (South Dakota) High School in 1950 and then was at Yankton (South Dakota) High School from 1954 to 1968. Among the many track athletes that Greeno coached at Yankton was a fledgling young journalist named Tom Brokaw.

“The Brokaw family lived next door to us, and I taught Tom in biology class,” Greeno recalled. “He was always around athletics, and was a pole vaulter back in the time when they used a bamboo pole and landed in the sand.”

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Shown above is the 1975 Lincoln High School boys cross country squad, which won the school’s sixth consecutive state title

In 1968, Greeno accepted the positions of boys track coach and boys cross country coach at then-two-year-old Lincoln High School in the state’s largest city, Sioux Falls. Greeno led the three high schools collectively to 36 cross country or track conference titles, 31 regional titles, and 19 state titles; and he coached 76 relay or individual track state champions and 13 individual cross country gold-medal winners. However, it was at Lincoln where his coaching career really accelerated into overdrive.

“Among the keys to our success at Lincoln was we had good athletes,” Greeno explained. “In addition, there was a lot of enthusiasm since it was a new school. Not just in sports, but also in fine arts activities such as speech, drama and music.”

The decade of the 1970s virtually belonged to the Lincoln boys cross country program as it won nine state titles (1970-76; 1978-79) and was runner-up the other year (1977). In the process, the Patriots won 87 consecutive meets. Greeno also led the Patriots’ boys track team to equally exemplary success, including eight state titles and a 52-dual meet winning streak.

A key part of the Patriots’ success was how Greeno was able to sell the program and to get students to come out for the teams in droves.

“One of my strong points was if I saw a kid in gym class, I would invite him to come out for track and cross country,” Greeno said. “The numbers started out small, but we eventually grew to having 45 to 60 cross country runners and 125 track athletes.”

A somewhat unusual aspect of Greeno’s success was the fact that not only did he coach the Patriots boys cross country program, he would actually join them on their training runs.

“I felt that if I was asking our athletes to go out there and run, then I should run with them – regardless of the weather conditions,” Greeno said. “Not many coaches were doing the same thing at that time.”

Leading the Patriots’ highly successful cross country program at that time were many outstanding runners, including Mike Bills, who was state meet runner-up in 1973 and state champion in 1974, while his twin brother, Mark, finished second in 1974. Jeff Sand claimed the 1975 state title, followed by state championship finishes two years later by Jan Cain and then two years after that by Ralph VanZweden.

However, the best of them of all might have been the one who started it all.

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Shown above are the top four finishers in the 1971 SDHSAA Class “AA” state track meet mile run (l-r): Drake Titze, Watertown (4:29.7; placed fourth), Steve Heidenreich, Watertown (4:23.4; first), Jim Reinhart, Sioux Falls Lincoln (4:25.7; T-2) and Jeff Schemmel, Madison (4:25.7; T-2)

That prodigiously talented runner was 5-foot-11, 138-pound Jim Reinhart. After finishing second to teammate Robb Rasmussen in his first-ever cross country race as a sophomore, Reinhart never lost again. Along the way, he won three consecutive South Dakota High School Activities Association (SDHSAA) Class “AA” cross country state titles from 1970 to 1972, and set numerous state track records, including in the 880-yard run (1:51.2), the mile run (4:07.9) and the two-mile run (9:09).

“Jim was so coachable and humble – and still is today,” Greeno said. “He’d always say ‘I’ll do whatever’s best for the team.’ He’d never miss a workout and was pretty even-tempered – never got too high or too low.”

“I always felt that I was blessed to have coach Greeno as a coach,” Reinhart said. “There was a great dignity about the man, being a quality person. We also had a unique group of guys with whom I was fortunate to run.

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Shown above is Rich Greeno at the bottom of the hill of Lincoln High School’s home course. The Patriots lost to Yankton during Greeno’s first year, but did not lose another home match during the rest of his coaching tenure at Lincoln.

“Coach Greeno emphasized three things to the team members. First, you always give 100 percent. Second, you always need to have a concern and a care to encourage each other as teammates. And third, you had to always know what the goal is – what is it that we are trying to work toward. He encouraged tremendous competitiveness in the sense that not only do you give 100 percent, but if you were going to step on the track or on the cross country course, you always strive to finish first both as a team and as a runner.”

Reinhart – who regards his near-namesake Jim Ryun as his distance running role model – came along at a time that many longtime experts in South Dakota high school distance running regard as its halcyon era.

Included among those other great distance runners were Steve Heidenreich (4:09.3 1,600-meter run) and Drake Titze (1:53.7 800-meter run) of Watertown, who subsequently ran for Indiana University and Missouri, respectively; Rick Nissen (4:19.7 mile run) and Jay Monfore of Miller, the latter of whom won two SDHSAA Class “A” state cross country titles; and Jeff Hermann (4:15.5 1,600-meter run) and Jeff Schemmel of Madison (4:10.6 1,600-meter run), the latter of whom later ran for Kansas State University. With a time of 4:25.7, Reinhart tied for second with Schemmel in the 1971 Class “AA” boys state track meet mile run that also included among the top four finishers Heidenreich (first) and Titze (fourth).

While Reinhart fondly recalls numerous highly competitive races with many of those talented individuals, his most memorable high school race was with an out-of-state star who also later ran for K-State.

“During April of my junior year, I was in the 800-meter run at Roberts Stadium in Sioux City, Iowa,” Reinhart began. “Sioux City East had a great senior distance runner named Bob Prince. It was a picture-perfect night for running and all my teammates lined the entire track giving me tremendous encouragement every step of the way.”

“The media built up the race as a showdown between the two great distance runners from Sioux Falls and Sioux City,” Greeno explained. “Jim and Bob were together most of the race. With about 150 meters to go, Bob tried to go ahead, but Jim broke it open and spread it out at the finish to win it in a state-record 1:50.9.”

Reinhart points to his participation in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes as being a big part of both his personal and team success at Lincoln High School, as well as with developing his strong Christian faith throughout his entire life. After high school, Reinhart was a distance runner at the University of Notre Dame, and today, he and his wife, Janice, live in Naperville, Illinois. Jim and his son, Ross, are co-owners of the Reinhart Financial Group.

After retiring from coaching at Lincoln High School in 1990, Greeno moved to the college ranks where he coached the University of Sioux Falls until 2004. He continued to run into his early 80s when he had his knee replaced (he is now 86), and he currently works out five to six times a week at the Avera McKennan Fitness Center. His home is located near both the fitness center and Lincoln High School.

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Shown above are members of the Rich Greeno family (back row, l-r): son-in-law Marc Murren; granddaughter Amy and husband Paul Heinert; grandson John; daughter-in-law Sue and son Mark. (Front row, l-r): Daughter LuAnn Murren, Rich Greeno; wife Rosemary; granddaughter Emily Murren

Among his numerous recognitions, Greeno was named 1974 national track and field coach of the year by the National High School Athletic Coaches Association and 1990 national cross country coach of the year by that same organization. He was twice named track coach of the year and once named cross country coach of the year by the South Dakota High School Coaches Association.

Greeno, who was inducted into the Northern State University Hall of Fame, the South Dakota High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame and the Yankton High School Athletic Hall of Fame, was inducted in 1999 into the NFHS’ National High School Hall of Fame.

“Being inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame was pretty special,” Greeno stated. “It was meaningful because it’s not just athletics – but also different areas. We were able to take our family to Washington, D.C. for it and they really enjoyed their time there. [Hall of Fame director] Bruce Howard of the NFHS has been a real important figure in the Hall of Fame.”