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Retirement can’t keep volunteer coach off the track

BY MATT SCHOMMER | MARCH 09, 2010 7:30 AM

Slade Kemmet/The Daily Iowan
Walking with a track runner, John Raffensperger gives advice in the Recreation Building on Feb. 23. Among some of his many accomplishments, Raffensperger was inducted into Northern Iowa’s Athletics Hall of Fame two years ago.
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There aren’t too many things that Brett Favre and John Raffensperger have in common. Although there is one obvious connection the two share: Neither knows when to retire.

You won’t find Raffensperger’s name listed under coaches on the Hawkeye Sports’ website. But where you will find the former high-school track coach is at the Recreation Building, helping out the men’s track and field team practices on a daily basis.

“He’s obviously an outstanding coach with a wealth of knowledge and wisdom,” head coach Larry Wieczorek said. “His most valuable thing is his sense of humor. He keeps me relaxed and can put things in perspective.”

Raffensperger volunteers his time each day to the Iowa tracksters, something he had done as a head track coach at City High for 36 years. During his tenure, “Coach Raff” racked up 10 state track titles, while also assisting on the football team — one that featured former Hawkeye standout Tim Dwight and current assistant coach Joey Woody.

“He just has a good feel on how to coach high-school kids,” Woody said. “My senior class won the first [title] for him, but now it’s fun because he’s been a part of my career ever since I was at UNI and even after that.”

Woody said he still remembers Raffensperger watching him compete in Switzerland and being able to hear his voice above everyone else’s in a crowd of 40,000-plus.

Raffensperger’s success as a coach is most likely a result from his success as an athlete. At Northern Iowa, Raffensperger participated in both track and football, and his time there earned him an induction into the Athletics Hall of Fame two years ago.

Originally from Iowa City, Raffensperger’s family ties have kept him close and involved in his hometown.

“My dad was the head football coach at Iowa in the early ’50s,” Raffensperger said. “He’s one of the reasons I went into coaching, but ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to be a coach.”

Now in his fourth year with the Hawkeyes, the 69-year-old continues his childhood dream of teaching young people.

As a volunteer coach, Raffensperger doesn’t get paid, but there are a few fringe benefits. A new pair of shoes each year, coaching clothes, and free trips around the country with the team are a few of the perks Raffensperger said he enjoys.

He’s also known for the time he puts in at the Iowa basketball and football games.

“I keep stats for basketball,” he said. “And I’ve been on the football PA since 1968. I have someone who feeds me the plays, like who got a sack, how many yards they got, and I announce them in the media booth.”

It’s not hard to see that Raffensperger has tried to remain as involved with the university as possible.

“I like to be active, and this gave me a good opportunity,” he said.

While Raffensperger remains an effective part of the track team’s success, he is starting to take pleasure in some of the things that come along with retirement. He is currently taking in some spring training in Tucson, Ariz.

Raffensperger shares just about everything with the local community except for one minor thing.

“I’m a [St. Louis] Cardinal fan, actually,” Raffensperger said with a laugh. “I guess that sort of makes me an anti-Cub person.”


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