Dale Hartney was in his element one unseasonably cool Wednesday morning in April.
As members of the Upper Arlington High School track and field teams practiced, he paced the track and infield in Marv Moorehead Stadium, clocking runners’ times and giving advice for the season that lied ahead.
That practice during UA’s spring break also reminded the 70-year-old Hartney why he is looking forward to retirement after 49 years as a coach at UA and Whetstone.
“I think I need a break,” Hartney said that day. “It’s a combination of a lot of things. I have two granddaughters (Lydia, 10, and Anna, 7) and they live in Fort Wayne, Ind. A lot of days with their schedule and my daughter (Erin Layden) and her husband’s schedules, I don’t get to see them much. They’re at Walt Disney World right now. I could be with them. It’s 40 degrees here and it’s been 82 both days they’ve been there.”
Now, Hartney has all the time in the world to relax – and probably attend a few cross country and track meets from time to time.
“It didn’t help that my mom (Diane) was with us that week,” Layden, a 1990 UA graduate who ran for her father, said of the trip to Disney World. “My older daughter is in dance now, and he hasn’t been able to see a lot of things. Now he’ll get to do whatever he wants, and he’s certainly earned that right.”
Hartney, whose coaching career began when he was a student teacher at Whetstone in 1964, took over UA’s boys cross country program in 1977 and the girls team in 1985. The girls team won state championships in 1985, 1986 and 1990, and the boys and girls teams won a combined 20 Division I district titles under Hartney.
Hartney became the girls track coach in 1986 and the Golden Bears were the Division I state runners-up in 1990.
“He’s a great guy to sit down and talk about anything with,” UA boys athletics director Michael Schaefer said. “He can joke about anything. Being in the teaching profession for almost 50 years, you have to be able to roll with the punches on some things and make the best of any situation. He gets it in terms of developing students in and out of the classroom. That combination of things really makes for a special individual.”
During Hartney’s tenure at UA, at least one cross country runner qualified for state each year and at least one track athlete advanced to state in all but two seasons.
“Everywhere we go, he knows people and people know him. He’s such a big name in running in Ohio and he’s taught me pretty much everything,” said senior-to-be Dorrian Jaffe, a three-year letterwinner in both cross country and track who finished 16th in the 3,200 meters (11 minutes, 59.97 seconds) at state June 8 at Ohio State. “Everything he says, whether it’s serious or funny, has some piece of information in it, something we all can learn from.”
Hartney, an all-state runner at Ashland who ran for two seasons at Ohio University before transferring to Ohio State, officially was the boys track coach, but he and girls coach Latisha Wilder followed a decades-old practice in the program of working with athletes on both teams so that they could focus on their areas of expertise.
Wilder has been named Hartney’s successor as cross country coach, and assistant track coach Tim Jewett has been promoted to head coach of the boys team.
Wilder said she hesitated to apply for the cross country position when she heard Hartney was retiring, largely because she wasn’t sure he’d stick to his decision.
“Eventually I realized he was serious, that it was for real,” Wilder said.
“He’s such a gem in the coaching community. I am sure he’ll pop in when we need him. I hope he’ll be around. Even when he’s gone, he’ll still be an important part of this program.”
Hartney, whose first love as a student-athlete was basketball, said he has learned as much from his pupils over the years as he has taught them.
“I taught myself things,” said Hartney, who also coached boys and girls basketball at UA for a combined 20 seasons and taught social studies. “I’m one of those people where I can teach better by showing them (than by telling). I could throw the discus around 140 feet and I could throw the eight-pound shot (put) around 50. I don’t look like it now. I coached basketball for 20 years here and I did the same thing. I learned how to shoot right-handed and left-handed. I figured if I’m going to show people to do things, I ought to be able to do it, too. That’s always been my style.
“I used to run with the kids and make their life miserable. I want consistency. I want what we do at the end of practice, the last thing we do, to be the fastest thing we do.”
Layden said she and her father never had trouble separating their father-daughter relationship and their coach-runner relationship.
“He was always just ‘Dad,’” she said. “When people would ask me about running for my dad, I didn’t know what to say because I never knew it any other way. He was always my coach. I think he tried hard to make sure I wasn’t treated any differently. I think it was pretty cool, an amazing experience.”
Hartney said he already had taken down dozens of certificates and plaques in his home office by mid-June and still was making lists of who had turned in their track uniforms – some of which also are used for cross country – and who hadn’t. His Ohio Department of Education Pupil Activity Permit is active through 2015, prompting him to note, “I guess I could come back for a year if I really wanted.”
Hartney admitted that he probably will attend a few cross country meets this fall and will do his best to be a fan – not a coach.
“I don’t want to interfere,” he said. “I’ll see (UA’s runners) when they go by me and maybe after the race. I think I’ve said enough over the years.”