Berndt, Jackson Named USTFCCCA National High School Track & Field Coaches of the Year
NEW ORLEANS – One is the head coach at a high school where single-digit temperatures are the norm in the winter. The other recently entered her 36th year at a high school in the heart of Miami, Florida.
It may not seem like Aaron Berndt (Wayzata High School/Minnesota) and Carmen Jackson (Miami Northwestern/Florida) have much in common, but they share two distinct characteristics: They both love coaching.
That passion – as well as success this past season – led them to being named National High School Track & Field Coaches of the Year by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA). Berndt was named the National Boys Track & Field Coach of the Year, while Jackson earned the National Girls Track & Field Coach of the Year honor.
The awards, announced Tuesday, were decided upon by a panel of experts from coast to coast. This is the second year of the prestigious honor, which is given to the year’s most exceptional coaches based on their teams’ and student-athletes’ performances during only the 2015 track & field season.
“Aaron Berndt and Carmen Jackson are both deserving recipients of the award and will continue the tradition of excellence started by last year’s inaugural winners Michael Fields and Dave Turnbull,” USTFCCCA CEO Sam Seemes said. “With the number of outstanding coaches in the high school ranks, the task of the selection committee to name a single National High School Coach of the Year for each gender is extremely difficult.”
Berndt and Jackson were selected from among the state-by-state High School Track & FIeld Coaches of the Year announced in July.
Berndt recently completed his 10th season as head boys track & field coach at Wayzata High School in Plymouth, Minnesota, where he also serves as a history teacher. Prior to becoming a coach and teacher, however, Berndt was an All-American mid-distance runner at the University of North Dakota, placing fourth in the 800 meters at the 2002 NCAA Division II Indoor Track & Field Championships.
Over the past four years, Berndt’s teams dominated Minnesota’s Class AA scene. This past season, the Trojans won their third consecutive True Team State Championship to go along with their second Minnesota High School League State Team Championship.
The True Team State Championship is the highest team honor given in Minnesota – the only state in which that competition is held. It values the ability of a team to field a true ‘team,’ rather than two or three standouts that can dictate other state meets.
“Seven or eight years ago we made an effort to make our team more of a ‘team,’ if that makes sense,” Berndt said. “A lot of people look at this being an individual sport, individual event, individual race, but we really tried to focus on the team aspect and build a better environment. To win another True Team title shows that our guys continually buy in and ultimately that’s what you want to see as coaches.”
This True Team title might be more special for Berndt this season because his team earned the crown without a first-place finisher. The Trojans qualified athletes in 15 of the 18 events and 11 of their athletes competing at the meet scored.
“You want continued success and depth is a big part of it,” Berndt said. “You’ll have your top athletes, but often it’s that 50th guy on the roster who pushes hard to get on that True Team roster that makes the difference.”
From one multiple state-championship winning coach to another, Jackson carved herself an incredible niche in Florida state track & field history. Over the span of her 23 years as head girls track & field coach at Miami Northwestern Senior High School, Jackson has won 10 state titles, including one in 2015 that extended her program’s streak to seven consecutive crowns.
Miami Northwestern decimated the competition at the 2015 Florida High School Athletic Association Class AAA Track & Field Championships. Jackson’s team set an all-time meet record of 155 points – one more than its total from 2014 – and nearly tripled the runner-up and third-place teams’ combined score.
Of all the state championships Jackson earned over her long career, the one she won as a senior in high school probably stands out the most compared to the rest. In 1975, the state of Florida allowed girls the opportunity to compete for state championships in varsity sports and the first one held was track & field. Jackson placed second in the 100-yard dash to help lead Miami Jackson Senior High School to a state title.
Track & field – and coaching, for that matter – means so much more to Jackson than just breaking records and winning state championships; to her it’s a “vehicle.”
“This ‘vehicle’ called track & field can help open doors for young men and women that they might never have open to them otherwise,” Jackson said. “My goal as a coach is to help these kids recognize their potential whether it in track & field or any other aspect in their life, because I want them to have a passion.”
When asked what contributed to her success, Jackson said it was four-pronged.
“I had a great mentor, a fantastic staff that shares the same vision and no matter what – day or night – we’re in this for the kids,” Jackson said. “Lastly and most importantly you have to believe and be committed to the process. You have to eat, sleep and drink it.”