Iowa men’s track benefits from volunteer assistant coaches


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While all Big Ten track teams have coaches and players, the Iowa men’s track team has a multitude of volunteer assistant coaches, something most conference teams don’t have.

“They do everything from running to get a bucket of water to driving the vans to assisting,” head coach Larry Wieczorek said. “As they’re here more and experience more things, they get more responsibilities. I’ve seen this evolution with coaches.”

Teams are allowed one unpaid volunteer per sport. But a “sport” can be defined as broadly as men’s or women’s indoor track to as specific as pole vaulting or director of operations. Iowa is one of only three Big Ten teams that have four or more volunteer assistant coaches.

“For a long time, we’d just have a volunteer here and a volunteer there,” Wieczorek said. “Then, all of a sudden, I had a great couple of volunteer coaches. It was unbelievable, the work they did for me. Then we became more active in advertising for assistant coaches.”

One former track athlete attracted to an Iowa volunteer job was Aaron Iaun. The Springfield, Ill., native graduated from Eastern Illinois in 2011 with an exercise-science degree, and he uses his work with Iowa’s long-distance program as his first foray into coaching.

“First and foremost, it’s a great experience for me,” Iaun said. “I want to be a Division-I coach. This is just invaluable experience. I’m getting firsthand experience with some of the best coaches in the country.”

Not all volunteer assistant coaches at Iowa take the job as a steppingstone for future coaching jobs. Kyle Wickwire has been a volunteer assistant coach for three years while his wife works on a degree in dentistry.

Russ Peterson, who was a six-time All-Big Ten athlete from 2000-04 at Iowa, has had coaching jobs at Augustana College in South Dakota and Colgate University in New York before taking his current volunteer assistant job with the Hawkeyes.

John Raffensperger, who is in his seventh year as a volunteer assistant at Iowa, retired from coaching and teaching at City High in 2003.

“He won 10 state championships while at City High in track and field, so he really is a legendary coach,” Wieczorek said. “He’s a great resource for us not only because he has knowledge, but he also has the wisdom of years and a great sense of humor.”

Volunteering as a coach at Iowa has a precedent of leading to coaching jobs in the future. Wieczorek cited former volunteer assistants who now have jobs at Princeton, the University of Washington, and Loyola as only a few examples of where a volunteer coaching job at Iowa can take someone.

Current men’s track interim assistant coach Mike Scott was a volunteer coach last season. He compiled recruiting information, helped with logistics with travel, and assisted with jumps, sprints, and hurdles.

He said transitioning to full-time assistant coach has had its pros and cons.

“I already had established a relationship with the athletes, so it wasn’t like I was somebody who was brand-new,” the Festus, Mo., native said. “But when I became a paid coach, a lot of people expected me to know things that I didn’t know.”

Pay is something the volunteer assistant coaches don’t get. Scott said that doing the job while not getting paid proves just how important track is for these former and future coaches.

“It’s a great opportunity to do what you love and get your foot in the door,” he said. “You know you have a good job if you’d do it for free.”

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