Dryden’s Stuttle seeks closure in final year

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This year, no matter what happens to the spring athletics season, will be the last for Dryden track and field coach Lee Stuttle. After 32 years coaching in Dryden, 30 of which were leading the track and field teams, Stuttle will be joining his wife in retirement.

During Stuttle’s tenure, Dryden track and field (both boys and girls) won 13 Section IV titles – including the boys this indoor season – and seven IAC Championships. Maintaining that impressive level of success starts with the foundation of the program itself in the eyes of Stuttle.

“You have to have numbers,” Stuttle said. “If you have a great modified program, those kids will flock to your program and you’ll have great numbers. The greater numbers you have, the better the chance that you’ll have great athletes and you can develop them into kids that get to go to a state meet and possibly medal at a state meet.”

What he knew about coaching came from two fellow Dryden Athletic Hall of Fame members (Stuttle was inducted in 2004).

“I had great coaches,” Stuttle said. “Coach Don Smith was my football and track coach at Dryden. Paul ‘Buddy’ Lang was my basketball coach and he was an assistant on the football field. I was very fortunate to have two awesome coaches.”

Lang is the reason Stuttle is where he is today. It all started with a phone call.

“Buddy Lang got a hold of me [before I was a coach],” he said. “He was the varsity basketball coach at Dryden and he said, ‘Hey, I’ve got a JV coach opening. Would you mind applying for it?’ I did and I guess you can say the rest is history.”

Stuttle has applied the philosophies he learned from both Lang and Smith over the years.

“Quite a bit [came from my old coaches],” Stuttle said. “They were old school. They believed that you need to get to practice. You need to work hard. When the lights come on at the football field or the track, you need to compete and know you’re the best one around and that we’re going to win.”

And in his final year, Stuttle was able to coach an excellent indoor track and field team that broke several school records and had two top-10 finishes at the State Championships (among public schools). Perhaps a contributing factor to that success is Stuttle’s following attitude.

“The team I’m coaching is always the best team I’ve had,” Stuttle said. “If I don’t think they’re the best team I’ve had, I’m not going to give them my best coaching ability.”

Two athletes who clearly learned from what coach Stuttle had to offer were senior Jakob Greenwood and junior Steven Morrow. They run in the same events, and Greenwood was the one setting school records this year. However, he said that he expects Morrow to overtake him in the record books next year. Seeing their back and forth was a joy for Stuttle.

“It’s awesome,” Stuttle said. “They’re both real competitors. It’s nice seeing them go head to head each time. I know each one of them wants to win the race even though they’re in the same event. I tell them up front. I say, ‘You need to beat your teammate today. You are one of the top two in the whole section and you just have to go out there and compete with your teammate and try to beat him.’”

Of course, he hopes to see the pair battle it out in the outdoor track season, which is in limbo currently due to the coronavirus. More importantly, he just hopes to see his players before the school year is said and done.

“I really haven’t seen them that much with all this coronavirus stuff going on,” Stuttle said. “We didn’t have a banquet so there really hasn’t been closure. The last time I saw the kids was at the state track meet. There really hasn’t been any closure.”

Even with his final season at risk, Stuttle’s main concern is that the seniors get their final runs in, not that he gets to coach once more.

“I don’t think [the outdoor season] is important for me; it’s important for the kids,” Stuttle said. “They really need it. I’ve had 32 teams. These seniors, this is their last year. I have so many great seniors and I don’t know if they’re going to get to compete or not.”

When asked what made coaching at Dryden so special for over three decades, Stuttle’s kid-first attitude shined through.

“The kids - that’s the bottom line,” he said. “It comes down to the kids. We’ve had video chats with the kids. That will be the thing that will get me. If I don’t get this last season to see these kids perform. That would be rough. Ultimately, the health of everybody in the country and the world is more important than a track meet or a track season.”

Hopefully, Stuttle will get to have some semblance of a track season to give his seniors a proper sendoff. Stuttle’s contributions to Dryden were already recognized back in 2004 when he was elected to the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame, but after this year, he’ll be leaving behind a much greater legacy.

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