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Retired prep coach still helps Iowa track

BY CODY GOODWIN | NOVEMBER 29, 2011 7:20 AM

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John Raffensperger wanders around the track at the Iowa Recreation Center every afternoon. The retired high-school track and field coach watches the Hawkeye 400- and 800-meter runners and takes notes for Iowa assistant coach Joey Woody.

A decorated coach who is known in the sport as Coach Raff, the 71-year-old aids the athletes in their form and technique during practice. His experience has brought knowledge and an immeasurable amount of help to the program, Woody says.

"He's a big reason we've had the success that we've had," Woody said.

But what makes Raffensperger's knowledge of the sport more valuable to Iowa's track and field program is that he's helping the squads for free.

"He's been a volunteer assistant with us for a number of years," Iowa women's track and field coach Layne Anderson said. "We're very fortunate to have him volunteering, because we can't pay them anything. It's exactly what the title says: volunteer."

Raffensberger began his legendary head-coach run in 1970, when he took over the City High track and field team. Between then and 1997 — his induction year into the Iowa Association of Track Coaches Hall of Fame — he guided the Little Hawks to six team state championships and 38 individual and relay state championships.

He finished his career with 10 state championship teams and numerous nationally ranked athletes ranked, and he coached a national championship relay team in the early 2000s.

One prep athlete Raffensberger coached was Woody. Raffensberger only had great things to say about his pupil, who went on to be the 1997 NCAA champion in the 400-meter hurdles at Northern Iowa.

"He was the leader in [the state] in the intermediate hurdles, and he was also a 6-7 high jumper, and a 48-second 400 runner," Raffensberger said.

Woody said he remembers the way he reacted to Raffensberger and how well the coach worked with him. He said Raffensberger has brought that coaching style to the table for Iowa.

"He's a great motivator — a great guy to be around," Woody said. "[The athletes] respect him and what he's done because of his experience. He knows how to work with young athletes.

"He comes to practice, and obviously, he's a light-hearted guy. He cracks jokes on the [athletes], which is always fun, but they appreciate everything he's done."

As Woody's success continued past his high-school career — he claimed a spot on the U.S. World team three times — he gave credit to Raffensberger for helping him reach the heights he did.

Furthermore, he said, Raffensberger has helped him more in coaching than anything else.

"A lot of it is just watching how he talks to athletes, works with athletes. He's a good friend and a father figure to me," Woody said. "Just to have that kind of person that cares about you shows a lot of things that I want to be as a coach. I want my athletes to understand how much I care about them — not just as an athlete, but as people and individuals.

"When people know how much you care about them, they're going to go out and work hard every day. The more that you can focus on caring about people and showing that you appreciate everything they do for you, the more they're going to do for you in return. That's what it's all about."


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