Former New Oxford runner finds way to honor old coach
In 24 years coaching track and field and cross country at New Oxford and Hanover, Greg Yiengst received little recognition or media attention. And that was perfectly fine with him.
While Yiengst coached plenty of state medalists — he's not sure the exact number, but more than 20 — he always tried to sneak away whenever he saw a camera. He wanted the spotlight on his athletes, and he would have been perfectly happy if nobody ever heard of him.
One of his former runners, however, was not happy about that.
Cameron Starr was in the fourth grade when he first met Yiengst, his teacher at the time. He later ran cross country and track under him at New Oxford, making up part of a 4x800 relay team that captured York-Adams and District 3 titles in 1993. He continued his track career at Kutztown, before eventually moving to North Carolina to become a coach.
Now a seven-time state championship coach at Marvin Ridge High School in North Carolina, Starr credits Yiengst with his success. Having always wanted to honor his former coach in some way, he named the boys' and girls' 4x800 relays at his school's annual invitational after Yiengst this season. The invitational took place on March 18 and featured more than 35 teams from around North Carolina.
"I owe my whole career to him and his influence," Starr said. "When I started coaching, I was a first grade teacher and my goal was to coach kids who used to be my students just like he did for me. Right now, I've got three or four kids on my team that I taught in first grade. It means a lot."
Yiengst was initially hesitant when told his name would be attached to the events. After all, it broke his longstanding rule about being noticed. But because of his respect for Starr, he allowed it and traveled down to North Carolina for the meet.
He ended up being very glad that he did.
"To do that meant a whole lot," Yiengst, who retired from coaching after 2013, said. "It touched me in a way, well, that's hard to describe. Coaches don't get much recognition, not that we coach for that. But it was a special moment."
There are many reasons why Starr was determined to give Yiengst his moment in the limelight. Not only did Yiengst first encourage him to start running when he was in the fourth grade, he always gave him advice during his college career and early coaching years, and even attended his wedding.
But Starr is not the only former athlete that Yiengst has stayed in touch with over the years. According to Yiengst, he frequently hears from former runners and enjoys learning what they're doing today.
"It means a lot that I'm retired and they stay in touch, sharing good memories and sharing their growth and progress in life," Yiengst said. "It makes me proud that I can still have relevance with them."
Those experiences mean a lot to Starr, who has tried his best to mimic Yiengst as a coach. That has meant not only learning to teach multiple events, but also wearing a plain white polo during meets just like Yiengst did.
More importantly, Starr has tried to influence and motivate his runners the way his longtime mentor did for him.
"He was honest, brutally honest but he knew how to motivate me," Starr said. "He knew how to get inside your head, taught me how to visualize. The way he coached definitely motivated me."
Though he's been out of the coaching game for about four years, Yiengst admitted attending the meet in North Carolina last month got his competitive juices going again. While the 66 year old isn't sure he'll ever take another job, he's glad to have influenced others to pick up the profession.
"I don't want to catch the coaching bug again, but I sort of had the itch down there (in North Carolina) and it's just a fun thing to do," Yiengst said. "There’s a bond coaches develop with athletes that they carry it into adulthood. I kept in touch with my high school coach until he passed away. It's just very special."