During his 38 years as a head coach at the Division II level – 11 seasons at Western Illinois and 27 at Cal Poly Pomona – Jim Sackett coached 12 national champions, 135 outdoor track All Americans, and 24 cross country All Americans. Cal Poly Pomona’s national title in 1983 was one of seven top-10 finishes at the NCAA Division II Cross Country Championships under Sackett’s leadership.
Sackett competed in the middle distances at Mankato State, graduating in 1961 with a degree in history and physical education. After graduating from Mankato State, Sackett began his coaching and teaching career at Leroy Ostrander High School in Leroy, Minnesota. He coached football, basketball and track & field and also started up the wrestling program. He then went to Washington State to get his Master’s degree, walked into the track coach’s office to inquire about helping out with the program and was told, “the freshmen are all yours.”
After earning a master’s degree in education at Washington State, Sackett went to Davis High School for two years where he was an assistant football coach and head track & field coach. While there, he started the Holden Relays, an annual event that still exists today.
Sackett went on to coach at Sacramento City College for five years, where he taught physical education and coached cross country and track & field. His teams won conference titles in cross country twice and track & field twice and one of his track teams finished second in the state in 1968. He coached four individual state champions.
He then made a big move, heading off to Western Illinois University, where he coached for 11 years. For the final five years there, he coached both cross country and track & field. Sackett moved on to Cal Poly Pomona in the fall of 1980 where he remained until his retirement.
In addition to his accomplishments as a coach, Sackett as a long history of service to the sport. In his career, Sackett hosted five national championships – three in track & field (two at Western Illinois and one at Cal Poly Pomona) and two in cross country (both at Cal Poly Pomona) – and five West Region cross country championships. He also served on the NCAA Track & field sports committee for nine years, a record tenure.
Sackett’s achievements have not gone without recognition. He has four national Coach of the Year awards and was twice named the Division II National Coach of the Year. He has also received four CCAA Coach of the Year awards and four West Region Coach of the Year awards. He received the distinguished service award in 1987 from the NCAA Cross Country Coaches Association and also in 1989 and 1994 for his track & field contributions. In 1993, Sackett was inducted into the Drake Relays Hall of Fame. His athletes at Western Illinois and Cal Poly Pomona won 13 relays at Drake along with one individual title. He also was named to the Western Illinois University Hall of Fame in 1997.