Steve Heffernan recently told some of his Sunflower League colleagues: “Until you’ve been a head track coach, you don’t know what busy is.”
The only track and field coach in Free State High history would know, and he will soon find himself occupied with a different kind of workload. This past spring, which culminated with the Firebirds girls winning the Class 6A state championship, was Heffernan’s 16th and final season. He resigned in order to become the new associate principal at FSHS, effective July 1.
All the busy details and paperwork that come with coaching track didn’t wear Heffernan down and inspire him to make a change, though.
“It’s all worth it for those moments when kids really succeed,” he said.
Actually, Heffernan first considered moving into an administrative role as far back as six or seven years ago.
“But I really didn’t want to leave Lawrence, and specifically I didn’t really want to leave Free State,” he added. “Unless something like (this new job) came along, I really wasn’t in a hurry to do anything.”
A science teacher and chairman of the school’s science department, Heffernan took a hard look at the FSHS associate principal position a year ago, because it was available then, too. But the timing didn’t feel right. He wasn’t quite ready to give up his track and field duties. The decision didn’t become a whole lot easier a year later, but Heffernan decided to go for it, and he will continue to coach cross country in the fall, because school administrators gave him flexibility to do so.
“I feel like the track program’s in a really good spot,” he said. “Probably the most difficult aspect of all of it is after coaching a bunch of different great kids for 20 years, my son (Owen) will be a junior on the team next year.”
The proud father, who coached at Wichita Collegiate and assisted at Bishop Miege before coming to Free State, still will get to work with his son in cross country, and he’ll have plenty of chances to stay connected with the track team. No matter how far removed he gets from the program, Heffernan will always be the coach associated with the girls’ first state title.
“I guess if you’re looking for a storybook ending, that was great,” he said. “We brought our A-game when we had the talent to win state. Seeing the kids be able to come through like that, that was fun.”
Free State athletic director Mike Hill said Heffernan has done much more for the school.
“It’ll be terrific to keep him around and take his skill sets to another level,” Hill said, “and we’ll continue to benefit from his leadership.”
Hill said FSHS is in the midst of finalizing its teaching staff for the upcoming school year, and once that is in place he will begin trying to find Heffernan’s replacement.
“There’s a lot of interest,” Hill said. “Steve and his staff have taken the program to a very high level.”
Hershiser steps down as FSHS golf coach
Free State also has an opening for a new girls golf coach, with the resignation of Craig Hershiser, who will continue to teach English and chair that department at the school.
“It was just a question of time and how much time I could devote to personal and professional interests,” Hershiser said of his decision.
After sending three Firebirds to state this past fall (Emily Bermel, Karen Campbell and Michael Miller), Hershiser said the program has more experience coming back than it has in a long time.
“That made (resigning) kind of hard,” he added.
Next year will mark the first time Hershiser, a coach of one sport or another since 1981, will not be leading a team in some capacity.
“It’ll be a change for me,” he said.