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WILLOW HILL >> Examples like Steven Glodek are exactly why Mathern Mellott is still a track & field coach in his late 60s, still committed to leading a track program that has no track, and still putting in the time and effort and using his own resources to keep Fannett-Metal on the sport's map.

Glodek had seen his dad do some road running, and thought it might be something he'd like to try. But when he came out for the Tigers' team as a ninth-grader, he quickly realized, "I couldn't compete with anybody."

"When that boy came out he was overweight," Mellott said. "He couldn't do one pushup and he couldn't run 200 meters."

But Mellott isn't the kind of coach who might steer a kid away from trying a sport, so he welcomed Glodek to the team.

Fast forward two years to his junior year.

Last fall, Glodek qualified for the PIAA Championships in cross country by placing fifth in District 5. This spring, he placed third in the district in the 1,600 in a time of 4:49.71 and took fifth in the 3,200 in 10:51.87. Both times were school records.

Glodek said, "Even if you're not the most athletic, Mr. Mellott will give you a chance to find something you can do. He's been supporting me the whole way and the more I worked, the more success I had."

Stephanie Glodek, Steven's mother, said, "Coach Mellott always sees the best in every child he comes in contact with, and he builds them up. I see such a difference in Steven now. Coach helped him find something that he's good at and enabled him to excel."

"He looks for strengths in kids that they didn't even know they had," said Tina Neil, F-M's athletic secretary, "and he has such a big heart for them."

Mellott's system works.

Since Fannett-Metal became a PIAA-sanctioned track & field team in 2012, the Tigers have had at least one District 5 champion every year. And in each of the past two years, an F-M athlete has brought home a silver medal from the PIAA Championships – Bryce Chilcote in the high jump in 2014 and Tom Peppernick in the discus this spring.

F-M athletic director Greg Best said, "The numbers (in the program) have been good and we've had some great individual success. Mathern is a big-time motivator. Some of these kids maybe wouldn't play a team sport, but he gets them to excel in an individual sport because he makes them want to improve."

It's all a part of the team's motto: "We make it happen."

There is a lot of truth to those words.

The Fannett-Metal school district pays for Mellott's coaching salary (he is a science teacher at the high school). But that's it.

The rest of the money – for transportation, fees for invitationals, uniforms, equipment, etc. – must be raised by Mellott and the parents and with donations and fund-raisers. And if enough money isn't raised, then Mellott will take it out of his own pocket.

"I'd say a good part of my salary goes right back into the program," Mellott admitted.

Mellott was a District 5 champion in the 800 back in 1966 for McConnellsburg. That happened only because he begged a teacher to drive him to the meet.

He coached the Spartan boys for five years in the early 1970s and had a lot of success. Bob Snyder won a PIAA mile title and Rick Hoffman was a state medalist and still holds district records in the 100 and 200. But Mellott left coaching after the 1976 season and got out of the teaching profession for 20 years.

Mellott resurfaced at Fannett-Metal as a teacher in 2002, and gradually the urge to coach track returned, even though F-M had no team. He started working with a handful of kids who competed individually, then track & field became a club sport at Fannett-Metal. Kids went to dual meets and competed independently, and Mellott took some to invitationals.

Best said, "It got to where we had 20 to 25 kids competing. I went to an AD meeting and they told me we had to have an official team or they wouldn't let us compete anymore. We had so many kids that it was making their meets run too long."

The problem was that F-M had just gone through a period of reducing sports, such as dropping some junior high programs, because of a budget crunch. The school board agreed to make track a PIAA sport, but it would not be able to pay for anything other than Mellott's salary.

Mellott can't say he's happy about the situation, but he's made it work.

"We had to beg and fight, but I was going to do whatever it took to have a team," Mellott said.

The finances are just one big hurdle. Another is that Fannett-Metal does not have an actual track, so they have no home meets. The team practices in a field in front of the high school, using cones and marking off lanes, and using makeshift jumping pits and other equipment. The Tigers, in fact, benefited greatly when Scotland School closed its doors because Mellott was able to purchase the school's track equipment at a great savings.

"We had to buy a building to store the equipment," Mellott said. "The one thing that's really hard to train for, for us, is the hurdles events. The field is not exactly level where we run and all the corners are 90 degrees. We did get some matting for the jumping runway, but it has dips and high spots.

"Those kinds of things can really make a difference."

When the money raised is not enough to cover the cost of equipment, Mellott said, "I just pull out my credit card."

He's paid for equipment all the way from spending thousands of dollars for a decent high jump setup, to buying kids shoes.

"If an athlete needs something to help them, I'll find a way to get it for them one way or another," he said. "Donations do help a lot and the parents have been very helpful. We couldn't do it without them."

The kids appreciate it, too.

Mellott told the story of a boy who needed a pair of shoes to compete properly, so he bought them for him. Two years after he had graduated from high school, and just before he was leaving for his second tour of duty in Afghanistan, the boy came to Mellott and repaid him for the shoes.

The Tigers have taken on their coach's mentality and are willing to fight through the adversity.

Peppernick is a good example. He was expected to qualify for states in the discus last year, but had a poor meet at districts and didn't make it. He took it upon himself to be ready this year.

"He let me know that I had the potential to do a lot better," Peppernick said. "And that led me to make the observation that, yeah, I could do a lot better."

Sometimes Peppernick would come to the school at 5:30 in the morning, open up the large door of the equipment building and shine his car's lights into the gap so he could work out, lifting or throwing the discus. Even in the winter with no heat. He would also go to Chambersburg to lift at a 24-hour gym before school.

That's the kind of work ethic Mellott wants to instill in all of his athletes.

Fannett-Metal had 40 kids on the team this spring, 12 girls and 28 boys. Most were recruited by Mellott.

"I meet the kids coming in to school and I circulate among them, and I encourage them to come out if they're not playing another sport," he said. "Track & field is a sport for everybody. We don't ever cut kids and nobody sits the bench.

"And we'll work with them and their schedules. If they work after school, they can practice before school or at lunch break. We'll figure out a way. Last year, Bryce (Chilcote) was getting his EMT license and had to miss a couple of meets and practices. On some teams, he might not have been able to keep competing, but we worked it out and he got his silver medal at states."

Mellott was expecting to retire from teaching and coaching in three years, but having gone through a medical situation last year, he doesn't see that happening now.

"With the way health insurance is now, I'll probably still be around for eight more years," he said.

And before that time is up, he has two goals in his mind, and they are not small ones: 1.) he wants to have a real track built at the school, and, 2.) he wants the Tigers to win a state championship as a team.

"We picked up some freshman this year that I think can do very well," Mellott said.

No, he doesn't sound like he's finished yet.

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