Hard work, works

by Nate Hoekstra

Hard work. Passion. Talent.

These are words that Jerry Baltes uses more often than most. He uses them to describe traits he looks for when he’s recruiting athletes as head coach for Grand Valley’s indoor and outdoor track and field, and cross country teams. He uses them when you ask what got him into coaching in the first place. They’re the words he continues to go back to when he talks about his assistant coaches, and the words he relies on to describe the student-athletes he pushes hard to succeed.

Baltes is intense about athletics, success and his student-athletes. Watch him at a meet, and it’s rare that you’ll see him stand still for more than 10 seconds at a time. He’s always on the move, watching a high-jumper make an attempt at a personal best, then quickly jogging to the outside lanes of the track in the Kelly Family Sports Center to shout tips and encouragement to his sweaty, red-faced runners as they zip past him on the way to the finish line. He races around the infield like it’s his marquee event, no fewer than three stopwatches dangling from his neck and pockets at any given time.

Baltes’ intensity works. Through his 14 years at Grand Valley, his teams have won a combined six national titles, and 70 of 86 cross country, indoor, and outdoor track and field GLIAC championships.

He’s been awarded GLIAC Coach of the Year honors 50 times, and has helped 107 All-American athletes earn a total of 300 All-American honors. He’s been the Great Lakes/Midwest Regional Coach of the Year 11 times in each of the three sports he coaches. Perhaps the most telling honor came in January when the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association announced that the Division II Women’s Program of the Year Award would be named after him.

“It’s humbling, and I’m thankful to the association for recognizing me, and I just hope our program can continue to do great things and carry the name of the program of the year award in a positive manner for years to come,” Baltes said.

photo by Amanda Pitts

Head coach Jerry Baltes shouts tips to one of his runners during an indoor track and field meet at the Kelly Family Sports Center.

If Baltes’s success as a coach has built a dynasty, he’ll be the first to tell you it’s because he had help along the way. He credited Doug Snyder and Thom Smith, his high school coaches, and Stan Lyons and Joe Franklin, his coaches at Butler University, for helping him realize his passion for teaching and coaching. Franklin gave him his first chance at coaching distance runners as a graduate assistant at Butler, and taught him the details of recruiting quality athletes, and the skills needed for the administrative part of the job, like scheduling meets and travel. He credited his parents and two brothers, who still run the northern Indiana farm where he grew up, for teaching him the value of hard work.

Assistant coaches — all six of them — are essential to the success of Baltes’ teams. Lou Andreadis, Keith Roberts, Tessa Sibley, Nick Polk, Blaine Maag and Steve Jones each help certain athletes master their specialty, from distance to sprints, jumpers to throwers. Baltes said their dedication and willingness to take on extra responsibilities on days when Grand Valley hosts meets with more than 2,500 student-athletes from all over the nation is a perfect example of why he values good people in his program.

“I’ve learned that you always have to surround yourself with positive people and the right people,” Baltes said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to do that every step of the way with our student-athletes, our assistant coaches, our support staff, and the administration.”

Baltes also realizes that the student-athletes make some of the largest sacrifices to help
the team. “They’re the ones in the weight room when no one is looking, they’re the ones who are working jobs, doing internships, doing their school work and then taking the time to come here and give it their all at practice, at meets,” Baltes said.

To Baltes, success, awards, championships, and trophies are icing on the proverbial cake — his primary objective is to teach his teams the value of hard work, to show them how their input into an activity has a direct impact on the outcome that they desire.

“The one thing I learned on the farm was there’s no replacement for hard work,” Baltes said. “You’ve got to work hard from day one. If an individual comes to our program with a little bit of talent and a little bit of passion, and they’re willing to work hard, good things are going to come their way.”

Page last modified May 13, 2013