Athletics: Herath creates a hall of fame environment
Brainerd Warriors head boys and girls cross-country coach Dave Herath will be inducted with four others into the Warrior Athletic Hall of Fame.
BRAINERD — A few years ago, Dave Herath got a taste of his own medicine.
Diagnosed with cancer, the Brainerd Warriors head boys’ and girls’ cross-country coach didn’t miss any time guiding his runners through the season. Perhaps one reason was family and not just his biological family.
It was a team concept Herath and his coaching staff tried to develop early in his coaching career. He didn’t realize how good of a job he had done in creating that environment until he got sick himself.
“Early on, maybe not the first year, but early we spent quite a bit of time talking about how we are family,” Herath said. “We’re not in it for the accolades because you would be in a different sport, but we are in it for each other. Once you get that rolling I think it perpetuates itself. The hard part is starting that and getting the kids to believe that. We’ve had a lot of unique kids, special needs kids, who have come through the program and they thrive within the program just as much as our top-notch runners. That’s a testament to the kids. They’re just a welcoming group.
“I didn’t realize how important that was until I was sick with that cancer garbage. Just the way the parents and kids rallied around me. I’ll take that until I am gone. I had no idea that’s what it felt to be a part of that. To be a recipient of feeling like you’re a part of more than yourself.”
Herath will now be a part of something else that is more than himself. Herath along with fellow coach Ellen Fussy, former athletes Chad Weiss and Sara Wennerstrand and former athlete and coach Walter Engbretson will be inducted into the Brainerd Warrior Athletic Hall of Fame Monday, May 1, during the All-Sports Banquet at Brainerd High School.
As Herath’s daughter Lydia Hatton put it. “It’s about time.”
Herath’s Warrior resume begins in 1987 when as a student teacher he started coaching as an assistant swim coach. A year later he was hired full-time in the Brainerd School District and has coached ever since. He’s been an assistant and head swimming and diving coach. He was an assistant volleyball coach. He coached Nordic skiing and got his first head coaching stint in 1993 as the head boys’ cross-country coach. He remains in that role, but also added the role as the head girls’ cross-country coach in 2001. He’s also the distant running coach for the Warriors track and field teams during the spring.
He coached all of his children and is currently coaching his son David. Hatton is the head boys’ and girls’ cross-country coach at Heritage Christian Academy, where she guided her boys’ team to a Class 1A state title last fall.
“I didn’t really know anything different because he was for both cross-country and track,” Hatton said. “Even now looking back on it, I probably asked too many questions because I was really interested in why we were doing what we were doing. There was a reason for why we were doing what we were doing. Now coaching, everything he did had a specific reason and still does for getting you better and also as a person.
“If I were to summarize what kind of coach he is, he’s just very intentional. Everything he does is for a reason.”
The father-daughter duo call each other about running-related issues three or four times a week. It’s a phone conversation Herath is glad to take.
“That means a lot,” Herath said. “All of my kids I was fortunate enough to coach in one sport or another. David, I’m coaching currently. That means a lot that they are willing to hang out with their dad for a lot of ours. Lydia, from a very young age, she wasn’t even in school yet. She would hide behind my leg during meets. She was a part of it all and has seen it all. Now being a state championship coach, she would call and ask questions throughout the season. She knew the answers already, but just liked to bounce stuff off of me. That means a lot. Anytime you have a kid who shares something you have a passion for you feel pretty good about that.”
As a coach of a not-so-glamorous sport of distance running, Herath knew he had to develop a culture of inclusiveness and togetherness. But he readily admits he wasn’t alone in creating that environment.
“The first thing that pops into my mind is that I’ve been fortunate to have some awesome assistants,” Herath said. “Dating back, Carl Schirmer and I were together from the start of cross-country starting. With Owen (Trout) and now Casey (Miller) and Brady (Ruttman) and Toni (Balsley) when she was here. We all have different personalities and connect with different kids. I think that for sure has helped with the variety of kids.
“I just think, I was made to hang out with kids. I just really just enjoy every chance I get to hang out with this group of kids. I tend to attract, our sport attracts, kids who are wanting something that isn't easy. Since the beginning, I’ve just always enjoyed being around them.”
Herath is an 11-time Section Cross-Country Coach of the Year. He’s advanced teams to 14 state tournaments, including a state runner-up finish in 2003 on the girls' side and a third-place showing on the boys’ side in 2007. Last fall the Warrior girls advanced to state. Two falls ago the Brainerd boys advanced to state.
He’s coached 120 state qualifiers and 18 all-state runners and he’s seen 30 of his athletes compete collegiality.
“I ran in college and we were discussing our teams combining,” Hatton said. “Back then a lot of them had separate coaches and separate teams. We felt like one team, even though it was two teams. He does a good job of making it feel like one team. For him, I’m sure it’s overwhelming because it is a lot of different people, events and personalities, but it really felt like one team.”
He’s also the distance events coach for the track and field team during the spring season.
“I handed over anything that had to do with the distance kids to him when I first got hired,” Warrior boys’ track and field coach and 2022 Hall of Fame inductee Rod Reuer said. “He is our head coach of our distance crew and makes all those decisions. That's the luxury we have — to have someone with the knowledge, experience and excitement about the event. He wasn’t always a distance guy, but has gravitated toward that area and has taken it on fully for many years. He’s been a very successful coach and has had some very successful cross-country teams as well as individuals.”
Herath has coached all of the current school record holders for distance events in track. Of the top 10 times for the girls' 800-meter run, Herath coached eight of those times. He coached eight of the times in the top 10 of the 1600, nine in the 3200 and nine of the top 10 times in the 4x800 relay.
On the boys’ side, he’s coached nine of the top 10 800 runs, eight of the top 10 1600 runs and seven of the top 10 3200 runs. For the boys’ 4x800 relay, he’s coached nine of the top 10.
“There is a wide range of coaching boys and girls, and I haven’t coached girls like he has, but he has that ability to connect with kids,” Reuer said. “That’s No. 1. He has a very strong bond and connection with his kids. Maybe the strongest of any coach on the team as far as just being around those kids for so long. There is a lot of crossover. Our distance kids in the spring are pretty much the same kids he had in the fall.”
Herath was at practice when Brainerd Warriors activities director Jack Freeman approached him and told him the news.
“It’s not something you ever really think about that much,” Herath said “Having been here for a lot of years and knowing the quality people that are already in the hall of fame is pretty humbling.
“I don’t think of myself as being old, but I’ve been here since the 80s so there has been a lot of coaches coming and going, but there’s been a lot of guys who I really look up to,” Herath said. “The people who have had longevity and success and I’ve always wanted to perpetuate that. We talk about the Warrior Way, which hasn’t been talked about a whole lot lately, but that was something that Ron (Stolski) drilled into us when I first came into Brainerd. We do things a little bit differently. I loved seeing that reflected in our athletes. They do it the right way. They’re generally kids who other teams look up to. It’s been a joy. I really enjoyed it. There are ups and downs like everything, but it’s just been a fantastic time.”
His daughter had a fantastic time and pride doesn’t begin to describe how she feels about her dad.
“I don’t even know if words could describe it,” Hatton said. “I’m incredibly proud of him and what he's’ gone through in sickness and health and all of the different things he’s overcome and accomplished on top of it.”
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop.