Family: The Story of the Bennett Family Coaching Tree

Family: The Story of the Bennett Family Coaching Tree

Buried in the foundation in the practice facility adjacent to the Kohl Center at the University of Wisconsin is a laminated card delineating the cornerstones not only of the Badgers men’s basketball program but also one of the nation’s most successful coaching families.
Contained on that card were what has become known as the “five pillars,” a set of principles formulated by Dick Bennett, the patriarch of a family whose coaching legacy included two national championships — one each for daughter Kathi and son Tony.

Those pillars — humility, passion, unity, servanthood, and thankfulness — were drawn from Dick Bennett’s deep religious faith and translated to apply to basketball. As the foundation was being laid for the Nicholas-Johnson Pavilion, Bennett gathered his Wisconsin players around and placed the card under the center court circle. “This program, as long as I’m here, will be built on these foundational points,” he told his players. A couple of years later, many of those players would be on the team that made an improbable run to the NCAA Final Four, the first for the program since its only national championship in 1941.

While the Bennett basketball formula evolved over the years, the basics have remained much the same with an emphasis on teamwork, tenacious defense, and disciplined offense. The payoff has been a combined 1,188 victories over 64 seasons with a .627 winning percentage. This comes despite a penchant for the family to take on tough rebuilding projects that promised rough early seasons.

Dick Bennett, who coached 11 seasons at five Wisconsin high schools before accumulating 489 victories at four universities, insists that his children proved to be better coaches than him.
But Kathi, who earned 353 wins at five schools, won’t hear of such talk.

“My dad is so creative,” said Kathi, now a Midwest sales rep for Eastbay. “He tinkers a lot, and he’s come up with a way to play that has been successful everywhere. All I did was steal it. And Tony has tinkered with his own, but my dad is the author. We always said it’s like a family business. Where we have knowledge that’s there, it’s like a library, and you get to go to it.”


Dick Bennett was a three-sport star both at Clintonville High School and at Ripon College. By the time he was in high school, he already knew he wanted to be a coach.

And while basketball was not his best sport – he maintains he was better at football, where he was a halfback, and baseball, where he played third base – he was drawn to basketball as his coaching destiny.

“Basketball is one sport that allows the whole to always be greater than the sum of its parts if approached properly,” he said. “I felt like it was the most team-oriented, and I perhaps could find ways where we could enhance the potential of the guys.”

His first coaching job was with the freshman team at West Bend High School in 1965, beginning an odyssey of Wisconsin high schools that would take him to Mineral Point, Marion, New London, and Eau Claire Memorial. “Quite frankly, I never desired to go beyond the high school level,” he said.

Although he never applied for a job in his career, his success at each stop kept leading to new opportunities. The first college job was at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP), then a struggling NAIA program. After a bumpy first season in 1976-77, the Pointers showed steady improvement, and in his sixth year on the job, began a run of four consecutive Wisconsin State University Conference championships.

He led Stevens Point to the NAIA national championship game in 1984, losing a heartbreaking overtime contest 48-46 to Fort Hays State.

His turnaround experience at UWSP would be played out two more times over the next 15 years at the NCAA Division I level, first at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and then at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. At Green Bay he took on the challenge of rebuilding a once-proud Division II program that had struggled after making the jump to Division I. After some initial struggles, the team steadily improved each season, finishing either first or second in the conference in five of Bennett’s last six seasons at the helm.

Green Bay made its first three NCAA tournament appearances in those years and famously pulled off an upset over California, led by future Hall of Fame guard Jason Kidd, in the first round of the 1994 tournament.

It was somewhere around the middle of his Green Bay years that Dick Bennett put together the four principles that would become known as the pillars. The list was the product of his desire to meld his basketball beliefs with his Christian beliefs, drawing concepts from the latter that applied to the former.

“That is probably the central piece of my desire to stay in coaching,” said Bennett, who was inducted into the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame in 2007. “Because of my faith, I never wanted to be one who went to church on Sunday, and then the rest of the week never even thought about my faith.

“In studying the life of Christ and becoming aware of what he taught and what he modeled, he was humble in every way you could imagine. He was passionate to the death. He took 12 guys who were pretty average and unified them and changed the course of history. And he built it around servanthood. He said you desire to be great, you serve.

“And it relates well to what you do in basketball. We played with great passion on defense. We played together. Our unity is what made us stronger as a whole. We ran a system that was based on servanthood — a lot of help defensively, a lot of screens to get shooters open, make the extra pass, all the things that make team basketball special.

“That’s all stuff I learned as I took on these rebuilding jobs. When you have great players, you can ignore all that stuff.”

Of course, rebuilding programs aren’t likely to attract many great players. So Bennett said the key is to bring in slightly above average players who will fully embrace the team concept and develop the mental and physical toughness to persevere during the tough times.

“When you accept a position, you know the first year or two are probably going to be quite difficult, so character ranks incredibly high as one of the major attributes you look for,” he said. “Because you’re going to lose and you’re going to get criticized, so you want people who are going to stay the course. That was so much a cornerstone of rebuilding, get kids who will work through the difficulties, and by the time they’re juniors they can do something.

“You can’t take bad players and make them good players. You have to take good players and help them to get better and really unify with other good players with great attitudes. And then you’re in business. That was my take on rebuilding Wisconsin.”

While he had built a national reputation as he put Green Bay on the basketball map, coaching the Badgers had always been a dream for Bennett, who had been passed up for the Wisconsin job a couple times previously. After some initial reluctance to leave his Green Bay team, Bennett couldn’t pass up the opportunity when it came his way.

Five years later, he led the Badgers to the Final Four. And that team was a quintessential Bennett squad composed of blue-collar players like Mike Kelley, Andy Kowske, Maurice Linton, Mark Vershaw, Charlie Wills, Roy Boone, and Jon Bryant.

“Those guys were rock solid as people, and they were good players,” Bennett said. “When they came together, it was pretty special.”


Many of Kathi Bennett’s earliest memories revolve around basketball. Whether her dad, Dick Bennett, was coaching at New London or Eau Claire Memorial, Kathi would tag along to practice whenever she could, dribbling a ball on the sideline. During games at Memorial, she would run around in the balcony with her friends, playing her own game. 

As she grew, so did her passion for the game. As a teenager in Stevens Point, she would drag Tony, 6 ½ years her junior, over to Berg Gym on the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP) campus before dawn for intense workouts.

“The minute he could rebound, I used him,” Kathi said. “I was very driven and when we did workouts, we did workouts. I made him rebound, and if he passed it to me and he missed my hands, I got mad.”

Tony remembers that all too clearly, in great detail.

“Imagine this,” Tony said, “I’m a fourth or fifth or sixth grader and she’s getting me out of bed at five in the morning. I would rebound for her and we’d do these shooting workouts. She’d shoot 25 reps and I’d get like five to 10 shots – it was so skewed. If I didn’t throw her a perfect pass or zip a pass right where her hands were, she’d be like, ‘Throw me a better pass.’ She’d chew me out and here she’s dragging this 12-year-old kid or whatever to work out.”

While he might not have always appreciated it at the time, she also left a lasting impression that would shape his own work ethic a few years later.

“I remember her intensity and watching her work until she’d almost get lightheaded,” he said. “I’d watch that and say, ‘OK, this is how it’s supposed to be.’ A lot of guys would ask how did I get good? I’d say, ‘playing with my sister and her friends.’ I think it was a big advantage.”

Training and playing with a level of intensity rarely seen in female athletes at the time, Kathi emerged as one of the top point guards in the nation. She led Stevens Point Area Senior High to the state championship her junior year, earning first-team all-state honors and attracting attention from some of the top college programs in the nation. Her dad remembers talking with then-Texas coach Jody Conradt, who told him that Kathi was one of the top five point guards in the country.

But in the fall of her senior year she suffered a major knee injury while playing volleyball, an injury that sidelined her for two years and quashed her big-time college prospects. She played a season at UWSP, then went to University of Wisconisin-Green Bay, where she suffered a second knee injury that ended her playing days. 

“It’s a shame about Kathi, that she never got to showcase her talent at the college level because of her injuries,” Dick said. “I’ve always felt so bad. She was ahead of the game in so many ways – her ballhandling and shooting and her leadership. She influenced Tony probably more than I did with her work ethic.”

Kathi Bennett, who has had two knee replacements, still laments the premature end to her playing career.

“I had such a love and passion for the game of basketball as a player,” she said. “Competing as a player is No. 1, coaching is No. 2. But there’s nothing like playing.”

After graduating from Green Bay, she had no intention of following in her dad’s coaching footsteps.

“I said I was never going to coach,” she recalled. “I was so mad at the game. I did everything in my power not to coach. I went in debt $50,000 because I took jobs I didn’t like and then I went to grad school and I was pretty close to getting my master’s of social work. I was working a couple jobs, I had no money, I was donating plasma to get gas money.”

And then a friend pointed out that Carroll College in Waukesha, Wisconsin, was looking for an assistant coach midway through its season. Kathi applied and got the job. After being given the chance to run an optional weekend practice, she was hooked.

“I didn’t know if anyone would show up,” she said. “But everybody showed up and I ran my first practice at Carroll College and that was it. I was like, ‘oh my gosh, this is so much fun. I want to do this.’”

She got her first head coaching job the next year at the now-defunct Marycrest College. After one season, she moved on to University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, where she would enjoy a remarkable run with five conference championships in seven seasons. In 1995, she led the Titans to the NCAA Division III championship game, where they lost 59-55 to Capital University.

The next season, the Titans put together a perfect season, going 31-0 and winning the national title with a 66-50 rout of Mount Union.

“That was special,” she said. “I could’ve seen myself finishing out my career at Oshkosh, no question. I went back and forth. I just think that challenge kept calling and knocking on the door, and I just wanted to test myself at that next level.”

That opportunity came at the University of Evansville in Indiana, a woeful program that had gone 9-70 in its previous three seasons. After a couple of rough rebuilding seasons with a total of just nine wins, she led the Aces to the Missouri Valley Conference tournament title in 1999, earning a berth in the NCAA tournament. The following season Evansville would compile a 23-7 record and play in the WNIT.

“I learned that I really loved the game at Evansville,” Kathi said. “When you don’t win games but still look forward to practice and seeing those players that are still all in on your vision, that’s when I realized how much I love the game. Evansville taught me that.”

While she could have remained at Evansville and tried to build it into a mid-major power, in true Bennett tradition, she couldn’t pass up another challenge, and moved up to the Big Ten with Indiana.

“When I look back at that Evansville group and who we had coming back and how good we were, in hindsight, I wonder what could’ve been,” she said. “But you never know. And again, it’s that challenge of wanting to compete and go up against the best and see where you stack up. I think that challenge, that allure, won out.”

Her Indiana career got off to a strong start as she led the Hoosiers to a 20-11 record, doubling their win total of the previous season. Her second season, however, was marred by a near-fatal auto accident that left her with a broken neck. Still, she returned, wearing a halo brace, and led the Hoosiers to the Big Ten tournament title and an NCAA tournament berth.

But the injury had a lingering effect, and after three more seasons, Kathi decided to step away from coaching. “I physically came back too soon,” she said. “I was exhausted. I wasn’t myself. That led me to walk away and do something else.”

After working in sales for two years, the basketball bug bit and she returned to coaching as an assistant to Lisa Stone at University of Wisconsin-Madison. She was put in charge of the defense and installed her dad’s famed pack line defense. She also introduced the five pillars, with some tweaks from Stone.

“I think servanthood and humility were pretty special for that group,” Kathi said. “To touch greatness, it’s hard to do it alone and if you can get a group that buys into having one goal, that’s all that matters in the end.”

In her second season with the program, the Badgers were able to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time in eight years, compiling a 21-11 record, and tying for third place in the Big Ten.

That success led to one last head coaching opportunity at Northern Illinois, where she spent five years before stepping down following the 2014-15 season.

Not only did she impact her sport, she also set an example for her younger brother.

“She’s a unique person,” Tony said. “As a coach, she was ahead of her time. She coached hard and intense. That’s hard in today’s game and even back then, whether male or female. I think she left a pretty big mark and I’m proud of her for that. She impacted me as a player and as a coach – I admire how she handled great success and how she handled some of the hard things.”

While she’s left basketball behind, she believes the principles embodied in the pillars apply to her current career.

“Without a doubt,” she said. “We’re called to live a serving life and that’s my goal as a sales rep for Eastbay – to serve my customers to the best of my ability and have that energy about it. And staying humble with everything too. You’re doing it for a reason and they’re the reason. I think it definitely translates beyond basketball.”


Like his big sister Kathi, Tony Bennett had no intention of making a career of coaching basketball.

Tony, the youngest of Dick and Anne Bennett’s three children, enjoyed a brilliant career as a player.

After an outstanding prep career at Green Bay Preble, he passed up the chance to play for a major college program to play for his dad. While he admits the notion of playing for North Carolina or Duke had some appeal, in the end, family ties proved a stronger motivation.

“I knew my dad thought I could touch greatness,” Tony said. “I knew he saw that in me. And, maybe even more importantly, I knew I could trust him.”

“My dream was to go pro, like most guys, and I wanted desperately to see if we could take my dad’s team at Green Bay into the tournament and build something there.”

They did just that as Tony, as a junior, helped the Phoenix get its first-ever tournament bid in 1991.

Tony finished his career as the Mid-Continent all-time leader in scoring (2,285) and assists (601), earning conference Player of the Year honors twice and finishing as the career leader in 3-point shooting accuracy (49.7 percent). He started for the U.S. team in the 1991 Pan American Games and received the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award as the nation’s top player under six feet tall.

A second-round draft pick of the Charlotte Hornets, he spent three seasons in the league before persistent foot issues ended his career. He did play briefly in Australia and New Zealand, where he made his coaching debut with the North Harbour Kings in 1998.

The next year, the call of family brought him home, as he became a volunteer manager – likely the most accomplished manager of all time – with his dad’s University of Wisconsin – Madison team.

“I thought my dad was getting close to retiring and I wanted to be with him his last few years,” Tony said. “I just wanted to be by his side. Those are the experiences that are too precious to pass up. That was the year they went on that magical run to the Final Four and that’s when the bug bit me.”

That proved to be prophetic as Dick Bennett suddenly retired three games into the 2000-01 season. Tony stayed on as an assistant coach under interim coach Brad Soderberg. He continued as an assistant for the next two seasons under Bo Ryan.

Then his career took an unexpected turn when his dad decided to come out of retirement to take on one more coaching job at Washington State, with Tony coming along as an assistant with the expectation that he would take over the program a few years later.

“He surprised all of us when he wanted to come out of retirement,” Tony said. “He wanted to finish things right and I think he knew he could give me an opportunity at a difficult job but a high major job in the Pac-10.”

As with each rebuilding project, success came slowly in Pullman, Washington. The Cougars went 36-49 in the first three years of the Bennett regime before Dick turned the program over to Tony. But the efforts of those years paid off as the Cougars went 26-8, finished second in the Pac 10, and made their first NCAA tournament appearance in 13 years in 2007, as Tony swept nearly all the national coach of the year honors. They won 26 games again the next season and advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16.

Suddenly, Tony Bennett was one of the hottest names in coaching, and after one more season with Washington State University (WSU), he followed family tradition by taking on an even greater challenge by accepting a job at Virginia.

“When I got here, I wanted the chance to compete in the ACC against North Carolina and Duke and these storied programs and these great coaches,” he said. “Virginia had Ralph Sampson and a few strong years, but they were not in a good place when I arrived.”

But Virginia would be good soon, if not immediately. Tony compiled a 30-30 record through his first two seasons. However, over the past seven seasons, Virginia have a 201-43 (.861) record, won or shared four ACC titles, and accumulated 104 conference wins – 12 more than Duke and 19 more than North Carolina over that same span.

The program seemed to reach a new peak in 2017-18, winning the ACC regular-season title with a 17-1 mark and then winning the conference tournament to earn the No. 1 overall seed to the NCAA tournament with a 31-2 record.

But then University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) happened. Virginia became the first No. 1 seed to ever lose to a No. 16 seed and it wasn’t even close at 74-54. It was a shocking, traumatic, and humbling loss, one that seemingly erased all of that season’s accomplishments.

For Tony Bennett, it was a devastating, yet ultimately enlightening experience.

“It took me a little bit, but it made me step back and say ‘okay, what is it all about?’” Tony said. “Obviously, you’re humbled, you’re ridiculed. People hate on your style. Everybody’s coming at you. But, it did a couple things for me. I went back to the pillars in a way, but it made me want to to win a national championship. It stoked a fire in me to try to coach better, learn more, make adjustments – keep the core of what we do because it’s so successful. One historic loss put me on a pursuit to be as great as I can for my players, be a better coach, have our team be better, figure out all those things.

“It kind of made me step back and say, you know what, if I never get to a Final Four as a coach, if I get fired someday because I can’t do it, I’m still going to be okay. It drew me closer to my faith, which is by far the most important thing in my life. It made me value the relationship I had with my wife and kids, my family, and my friends.”

As fate would have it, Virginia, despite being heckled about the UMBC loss everywhere they went, had another tremendous season in 2018-19. They went 35-3, shared the ACC title, and earned another No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney.

Then began one of the most astounding tournament runs in history, beginning with a first-round scare in which they fell behind No. 16 seed Gardner-Webb by 14 points in the first half before rallying for a 15-point victory. Then came wins over Oklahoma and Oregon to move to an Elite Eight matchup against Purdue – the same program Dick Bennett’s Badgers played to get to the 2000 Final Four.

A miracle play in the final seconds of regulation led to an overtime win, leading to an equally dramatic finish in a 63-62 victory over Auburn to advance to the championship game against Texas Tech. Again, it went down to the final seconds of regulation before the Cavaliers tied it to set up another overtime victory for the program’s first national title.

Tony traces the roots of that title to the loss against UMBC. 

“I don’t believe we would’ve won a national championship as a program had our players and our staff not experienced that humbling loss,” he said. “I think it made the story even sweeter.”

Dick Bennett, who famously struggles to watch Tony’s games, was on hand for that championship contest and can’t imagine anything that could top it.

“I would have to say that, of all the sporting experiences I’ve had or seen or been a part of, that was the greatest one,” he said. “To see someone I love so much go through that and have that experience and that success, I haven’t seen anything in my athletic experience that was like that. That includes my own Final Four, as much as I loved that. This topped that experience.”

That championship also brought more attention to the pillars, which have been embraced by several other programs over the years. Former Butler coach Barry Collier adopted the pillars and rebranded them as “The Butler Way.” One of his successors, Brad Stevens, took those principles with him when he became the coach of Boston.

They’ve also found a growing appreciation beyond the world of athletics.

“I think everyone needs something they can go to as they’re going through hard times,” Tony Bennett said. “How can I look through the lens of these principles to be the best we can be? It’s a tremendous compass for life, for me as a coach, as a recruiter, and as a husband and father.”

“The wonderful thing about the pillars, they are important for a quality player and a quality team, but they transcend the sport of basketball. Now that I do things where I speak to businessmen, CEO’s, lawyers, they can’t get enough of those leadership principles. You talk about humility and thankfulness, and these pillars are so good.”

Nike Football: The Bond of a Brotherhood

Nike Football: The Bond of a Brotherhood

Football is a unique sport. It takes extreme athleticism, unparalleled guts, and a strong work ethic every single day to be successful in America’s most popular game. It’s also the ultimate team sport. Even superstars like George Kittle, Aaron Donald, Stephon Gilmore, and Cooper Kupp – who possess all the talent in the world – need to rely on their teammates in crucial situations to keep winning games.

With the responsibility of a win weighing on everyone’s shoulders, a successful team must build a strong bond of trust throughout their squad. How is that done, you ask? For Aaron Donald, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, it’s all about building and maintaining relationships on and off the field. 

“The bond and brotherhood you build with your teammates is beyond football,” Donald said. “When you’re able to battle with a guy on the field and also have a good time with him off it, you tend to have fun playing with that guy knowing he has your back.”

Another defensive player of the year, Stephon Gilmore, echoed what Donald had to say about a brotherhood being formed, but attributed that bond strengthening after overcoming obstacles as a team instead of individuals.

“When you overcome adversity as one, you gain a great deal of respect for those people who have shared that experience,” Gilmore said. “That mutual respect is the brotherhood.”

Even for the ultimate, alpha competitors like George Kittle, guys take time to reflect on the camaraderie formed just from playing the game together.

“I’m going on nine years with (quarterback) C.J. Beathard,” Kittle said. “We did five years at Iowa and now we’re going on year four in San Francisco. I’ve got a bond with him that I’ve never shared with anyone else in my life just because we played football. It’s crazy and that’s one thing I love about the game.”

And it’s not just the personal rapport these men build with each other, it also comes in the form of winning on the field. Los Angeles wide receiver Cooper Kupp took a more systematic approach when talking about how football is the ultimate team sport.

“You rely on the guys to the left and right of you to do their job effectively,” Kupp said. “Without group efficiency, you won’t be effective as a team. From the offensive line, to running back, to wide receiver, and quarterback, if one person isn’t right, the only chance to save that play is for someone else to pick up the slack.”

Winning obviously helps the bond between teammates grow stronger, but there’s also something to be said about the mutual respect gained throughout the heat of a battle, even in a loss. For these men, their differences don’t’ matter — when they step onto the field, they’ve got each other’s backs no matter the cost. That’s the brotherhood football creates.

“Our greatest successes and worst failures happen right there next to one another,” Kupp said. “Those experiences provide incredible opportunities to lift each other up and overcome things together.”

Making the Offseason Count

Making the Offseason Count

What are the factors that go into creating a top-tier high school baseball program from a newly opened school in under five years? Clear Springs High School (just outside Houston) opened in 2007 and the school moved to varsity level with its junior class in 2009. Since their first playoff run in 2011, the Chargers baseball team has only missed the playoffs once.

Head coach Chris Floyd has led the Clear Springs baseball program since the school’s inception. The team started with just freshmen and sophomores, and played sub-varsity competition the first year. With the first clear springs class of four-year seniors in 2011, the team advanced to the regional quarterfinals.

“It’s interesting to start from scratch,” Floyd says. “As coaches, we took successful pieces from other programs we were with and tried to figure out how it would work with a different dynamic of kids.

“The biggest key to our success is having a coaching staff that has been together for 10 years now,” he says. “In no way is this a one-man show. I have former head coaches as assistant coaches, and that’s a huge plus.”

THE ROUND ROCK CHALLENGE

One of the developments was the unique offseason program that eventually became known as the round rock challenge. The team plays through the spring and players move to elite and select, then play July through September.

“When the players come back to school in the fall, we lift and begin rebuilding the body from the first day of school through thanksgiving,” Floyd says. After thanksgiving break, the team begins the Round Rock Challenge.

Events are determined for each day over the subsequent 3-4 weeks and include tire-flipping relays, weight room challenges, sprints and distance races, obstacle courses, and a talent show. The 36 players in the baseball program vote on four captains, and the captains “draft” the players they think will best benefit the team based on the upcoming events. Individual times become part of each team’s overall score, and teams and individuals with the best scores are recognized.

“We try to get them comfortable at being uncomfortable,” Floyd says. “When you get to the playoffs and you’re facing the best of the best, you’re going to run into a lot of uncomfortable situations. We’re teaching them how to compete and how to be a good teammate.”

“The challenge can be easier or harder for each kid, and the competition by design doesn’t focus on baseball skills,” Floyd says. “Captains have to draft kids who are strong in different areas, so they have to be able to envision what each teammate’s skill set is. It gives them a taste of what it’s like to be a coach and how to rely on teammates.”

The challenge also helps identify leaders, Floyd says. “They have to learn how to communicate with each other, how to plan, and how to help coach one another,” he says. “There are a lot of lessons outside of training to be bigger, faster, and stronger.”

WISDOM FOR YOUNG COACHES

“Coaches have to be in it for the kids,” Floyd says. “Helping kids develop into the best people they can be needs to be the focus of any coach. As a coaching staff, we focus on preparing these players for life after high school to be a good father, a good husband, a responsible citizen. I believe winning will take care of itself if this is our focus. Winning a state championship is always a goal, but what good is that goal if you aren’t developing young men? If you’re just pursuing a championship to pad your resume, the kids will see right through that. They want to know you care first.”

One change over the past 10 years is that almost every athlete has a personal coach outside of school. “We’ve tried to find people who have similar coaching philosophies as we do, and point parents and kids in the right direction if they ask for a recommendation,” Floyd says. “For us, it’s a way to connect them with someone who preaches what we preach. And we do remind them personal coaches are not free.”

Every offseason, Floyd sets up a time to take his staff to visit with a college coaching staff. They’ve visited the University of Houston Texas, Texas A&M, Sam Houston State, and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (ULL). “We pick their brains, ask them about their experiences and apply what we learn to our program,” Floyd says. “We don’t need to see them taking batting practice or fielding grounders. We’re interested in how they coach and communicate with their kids. One year, coach Tony Robichaux at ULL, who passed away in July, spent three hours talking with us on character development. That has had a huge impact on our program. If you’re a young coach out there, read the tributes from coach Robichaux’s players. They all talk about how he has impacted them as men.”

Benefits of a Running Team, According to the Brooks Beasts

Benefits of a Running Team, According to the Brooks Beasts

In order to be the best in a conventional sport like running, sometimes it takes an unconventional method like runners training together instead of one-on-one with a coach.

“In the past, the sport revolved around this idea that you need to be selfish with blinders on,” said Danny Mackey, head coach of the Brooks Beasts Track Club. “Part of our team’s narrative is proving that a group of track athletes can function as a team and win global medals. It’s very different from other groups. It’s not just a group wearing the same jersey logo but practicing together to help each other become better.”

This idea of not just having a team to run with on race day, but to train with on a daily basis is still not very common in the professional running world.

“In high school and college, you have a team environment, but when you become a pro, there’s not many opportunities to score as a team, so it becomes really individualized,” said Katie Mackey, a Brooks Beast who specializes in the 1500m and 5K. “The Beasts team recreates that college atmosphere – living, training, and having fun together. If it wasn’t for the Beasts, I don’t think I’d still be running professionally.”

Brooks Beasts Track Club Girls Running

To Danny, the idea of training as a running team versus training individually is a no-brainer since it provides athletes with benefits they wouldn’t otherwise receive – the biggest one being the camaraderie they develop during training that carries over to race days.

The Beasts like to think of themselves as a wolf pack – individually strong but able to succeed in attacking larger targets when they work together. And succeed, they have. The Beasts compete at top events across the world, and just this past year, they set a world record for the men’s indoor 4xMile.

This success is due in part to a team atmosphere that provides the culture, challenges, and community the runners need in order to thrive.

A Culture To Succeed In

The culture of a team can be described as the unifying characteristics of the group. This is just as important as the individual athletes because without a unifying element, there is no team.

“We like to have fun, but when it comes to racing, we’re very serious and have huge goals,” Danny said.

Since the beginning, Danny’s tried to create a unique culture with a lively, uplifting, and competitive tone and to instill the importance of this into the Beasts.

“The culture is super important because when we hit rough patches, the team can get out of them quicker by helping each other rather than solely relying on me,” Danny said.

Like many organizations, the culture begins from the top and trickles down to affect every aspect of the team.

“It starts with me to a degree,” Danny said. “If you picture bumpers when a little kid is bowling, that’s kind of like my job – to keep the team in the lane, culture-wise. But if you have one person that’s not committed, it can eat away at the entire team culture, so credit also goes to the individual athletes.”

Through his coaching, Danny has ingrained the importance of that culture into his team.

“When we’re recruiting people, we look for somebody who fits the mold of our team,” said Henry Wynne, a Brooks Beast who specializes in the 1500m. “Obviously, we want someone who runs fast, but we also want somebody who works hard and isn’t selfish. Team is the most important thing to us.”

Marta Pen Freitas, who runs the 800m and 1500m for the Beasts, has only been with the team for six months, but even she clearly understands the importance of the team culture and doesn’t take it for granted.

“To have a good culture takes work from each person,” Marta said. “It doesn’t just happen. We have meetings to build that culture to try to be good teammates and support each other. It’s something that immediately attracted me to this group.”

Brooks Beasts Track Club Team Training

Challenges To Grow From

Not only does the team provide a thriving culture for the Beasts, it also provides them with unique challenges that allow them to grow.

From a coaching perspective, having a team of runners allows Danny to train them together as opposed to creating separate workouts for individual athletes. Though the Beasts don’t always compete in the same event, Danny will often have the them run together during practice.

“I have them run together to imitate the pressure of championship races where the competitors are literally shoulder to shoulder while running,” Danny said. “I want them aware of their surroundings.”

“It brings the best out of everybody,” Henry said. “When you’re feeling tired and hear someone breathing on your shoulder, that competitive nature flares up — no way you’re going to let that person pass. Then, during a big championship race when someone comes up on your shoulder, you tell yourself, ‘I’ve done this a million times in practice.’ So, you dig in deep and don’t let him pass.”

From an athlete’s perspective, team training can be beneficial for runners because it gives them the opportunity to challenge, inspire, and encourage each other.

“Seeing your teammates out there ripping it up and running extremely fast times pushes you to become better,” said Josh Kerr, a 1500m Brooks Beast. “You say to yourself, ‘I can do that. I’ve been doing the same training as them.’”

“Living in Seattle, most of the time it’s raining, and some days it’s hard to get up early in the morning to run, but having people hold you accountable to train with them every single day makes it easier to get out the door,” Henry said. “Nobody lets you slack.”

But encouraging and challenging each other doesn’t just happen at practice. The Beasts constantly push each other to keep going and not give up.

“Everyone encourages each other and builds each other up, and that’s not something you can find in every team,” Katie said. “We’re with each other in the highs — like watching a teammate run a PR, but we’re also with each other in the lows — like my teammate sitting next to me when I missed making the U.S. team by one spot. We’re on this roller coaster together.”

“You’re not going to have a great day every day, no one does,” Marta said. “But being surrounded by a team helps. They help remind you why you’re here.”

A Community To Belong To

The running community is a special niche group of people who understand each other’s passion and can relate to both the highs and lows of being a runner.

The Beasts acknowledge the importance of this community and hope to be bright lights within it.

“What makes the Brooks Beasts unique is our mission to give back to the community,” Katie said. “In Seattle, we have an open environment for runners who come into the city for competitions or training camps, and at meets, athletes gravitate toward our team. They’ll hop in with us while we train, and it’s totally accepted.”

Besides being a part of this larger running community, the Beasts, with their unique culture, have integrated a family vibe. This tight bond is vital to the team’s success.

“If you look at special forces, there’s a reason why platoons are a certain size, because you want that family dynamic, that camaraderie,” Danny said.

Brooks Beasts Track Club Running As A Group

The Beasts know that the team is more than just competing together on race days. It means having each other’s backs and knowing they’ll have yours.

“We compete for the same spots on the U.S. team and our jobs are on the line, but there’s enough room for us to be on the podium together,” Katie said. “We’re here to build each other up, be family, and compete against other top athletes.”

“At races everyone is fit and trained professionally, so it’s the little things that make the difference – being surrounded by a healthy environment, learning to take risks,” Marta said. “Having a team’s support gives me that extra step I need to be able to achieve something great. I’m in a prosperous environment. I can take risks and grow from them because my team is here to support me, not judge me. I cannot stress how important that is.”

In one weekend, one person may be racing in China, while another races in Belgium, and somebody else is in LA,” Henry said. “It can get lonely traveling by yourself, but you know you have your team. When you finish a race, whether it went well or not, you have text messages from 12 people giving you support.”

Danny is more than willing to lend a listening ear if an athlete wants to talk, but he explains that having teammates allows them to empathize with each other and further build the team chemistry.

“It’s a different perspective when you talk to a teammate,” Danny said. “They’ve experienced what you’re going through and can encourage you to keep going.”

The Brooks Beasts are proof that training as a team is beneficial to all athletes. And as runners across the globe prepare to leave their mark on the world’s biggest stage in 2020, the Beasts are training together hoping to make it in the mix.


For more on the Brooks Beasts check out our other blog posts and YouTube series.

Two Schools. One Mission.

Two Schools. One Mission.

Local Pride

East St. Louis Senior High School

Minutes away from St. Louis is one of Illinois’ premier high school athletic programs, East St. Louis. The football team boasts seven state championships and two national championships, the most in the state.

East St. Louis has produced 29 state championships between the men’s and women’s track teams. In basketball, ESL has four state championships and multiple conference titles.

At ESL, athletics serves an even bigger purpose — it’s a way to provide education and opportunities to many kids from a community that needs hope.

The East St. Louis football program was featured in the 2017 documentary “89 Blocks” (the title refers to the size of St. Louis’ footprint). The documentary humanized the personal issues faced by several players on the ESL football team and demonstrated how football served as a de facto family and emotional tether for students in a community hit hard by low income, erosion of the local economy, and crime.

East St. Louis Head Football Coach and Athletic Director Darren Sunkett has helped transform the athletic program into a source of local pride.

The school’s athletic success corresponds with a rise in its academics. Over the previous six years, the graduation rate has improved by more than 14 percent, while the dropout rate has declined by 4 percent.

The ESL sports programs are doing their part to help point students to better attendance and grades. For example, in 2018 the football team began practice earlier than ever to keep kids out of summer school. If the athletes wanted to play, they had to average a C or better in every class.

And it worked. “We had some kids with really high grade-point averages,” Sunkett said in a video interview with IndeOnline.com. “ As part of the football training schedule, we incorporate study hall before practice two or three days a week. If kids are falling behind in school, we’ll make them go to study hall. We take academics very seriously. They go hand-in-hand. You can’t play football without academics.”

Sunkett says having successful sports programs helps the kids focus on aspirations. “When the kids are on campus, it’s a safe haven for them and we try to remove the negative influences,” he told IndeOnline.com.

Sunkett and his team try to serve as more than just coaches to their athletes, he says. “Sometimes you have to be a father figure, a brother, a mentor, or a coach,” he says. “We wear a lot of different hats.”

Why We Play

Christian Brothers College High School

CBC Team Image

Christian Brothers College High School in St. Louis is a regional athletic powerhouse. Within the past five years, the Catholic school has claimed 15 state titles while making 28 trips to the semifinals.

As CBC continues to dominate men’s sports, Athletic Director Rocky Streb is focused on a bigger picture: the Why We Play initiative.

Why We Play is the slogan for the Missouri State High School Activities Association, and it’s meant to remind people of the true purpose of high school sports

“The idea is to put athletics into proper perspective,” Streb says. “Athletic participation is an extension of the classroom, where students can develop teamwork skills and understand the value of hard work and competition. They’re not intended as just a stepping stone to college athletic scholarship.”

Rising athletic expectations is a trend that all high schools are dealing with, Streb says. “College athletics is becoming more of the end game for too many kids,” he says. “The number of families paying to get on elite teams and hire personal trainers is soaring, and the return on investment is the college scholarship. It puts high school coaches in a tough position — if the coach doesn’t play him or cuts him, the coach has to deal with contentious parents.

“That’s why we push the Why We Play aspect. All high schools are trying to make sure athletics are a continuation of the high school experience and not a means to an end.”

CBC offers at least two teams in most sports to allow participation opportunities. They also haveseveral sports with “no cut” policies. To avoid overload, the student’s academics are monitored week to week and schoolwork gets top priority.

CBC has extended the slogan to reflect its Catholic identity and core LaSallian philosophy. “The motto at CBC is ‘Men for Tomorrow, Brothers for Life,’” Streb says. “It’s an extension of the classroom and school mantra. Coaches and teachers reinforce it with students every chance they can.”

Streb emphasizes that the key to aligning their values has been coaching leadership. The result of their unified vision has been academic and athletic success. “Coaching is a band of brotherhood at CBC,” he says. “They serve as mentors to younger coaches and share a lot of ideas across all sports. It has to happen organically — you can’t force it. These coaches have the personalities and leadership to make it work.”