John Sletten celebrates 50 years of coaching

High school coaches always leave a legacy at a school for their achievements, but to say that Ames High School track coach John Sletten has a legacy would be an understatement. Sletten has been coaching track for 50 years, and he has been at Ames High for 38 of those 50 years. What keeps Sletten going isn’t necessarily the championships and the success, but the students. “I don’t think it’s so much the meets that we have won,” Sletten said. “It’s the kids that I’ve been able to have contact with and work with over the years. Certainly some state meets we won stand out, and a few we lost as well, but I think it’s the association with the kids that is the important thing.” This year, Sletten enjoys coaching a dedicated team with an excellent work ethic. “I think every team takes on a certain personality,” Sletten said. “One of the things we have noted this year is the work ethic. I don’t care if you are talking about the distance runners, the middle distance runners, the sprinters and hurdles, or the kids in the field events; the work ethic has been pretty good. We are extremely pleased with what they get done in practice.” With 50 years of experience, Sletten plans to keep on coaching in the future unless he is forced to stop. “I’m taking it year by year,” Sletten said. “As long as I’m healthy and they still want me to coach, I’ll continue. It’s still fun and I enjoy it.” If you ever need to spot Sletten in a crowd, check the fingers. One unique thing about Sletten is that he lost a finger, leaving only four on his right hand. Sletten takes the missing finger with good humor. “I lost a finger in a log splitter in about 1989,” Sletten said with a chuckle. “One of the funny things was the kids that year would ask how many repetitions they had left. I would put up my right hand with four fingers and I would say five. They would laugh and they thought it was funny.” High school is Sletten’s niche because of the visible development of the students. “I’ve never coached at the college level, but I don’t think they see such great progress in the kids,” Sletten said. “They go out and recruit the best they can get and they are there. I’m sure they see some but nothing like in high school. To watch a kid go into manhood and become a top-notch competitor, whether they are state champions or just improving themselves, is exciting.” The legacy of John Sletten is still not complete at Ames High and will live on as long as the school is open. Great coaches have a positive impact on the sport, in the classroom, and at home. John Sletten is no exception. Sletten tells all of his runners to do their best, not only in track, but in all aspects of life. “My philosophy has always been that if you do your best, then that is all that can be asked of you,” Sletten said. “I also feel by the same token that if something is worth doing, then it is worth doing your best. I don’t care if that is on the track, on the cross-country course, in the classroom, or in your personal relationships. On the job, it is always worth doing your best. I live by that and I suppose I’ll die by that too. Everyone just needs to do their best.”