Oct. 16, 2013
By Tara Cavanaugh
Kent Overbey is something of a legend in the Ann Arbor Public Schools.
He taught humanities at Huron High School for 39 years, retiring in 2007. He was the men’s track and field coach from 1969 to 2009. He’s been the men’s cross country coach since 1985.
His wins have earned him many titles and awards: he was named the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association Coach of the Year in 2002, and he was admitted into the MITCA and Michigan High School Athletic Association halls of fame in 2007 and 2011, respectively.
His accolades come from his impressive record. As a track coach, his teams won 63 invitationals, 17 conference championships, 10 regional titles and earned 13 top ten state meet finishes. As a cross country coach, his teams won two conference titles, three regional championships, and earned eight top ten finishes at state.
Success isn’t the only reason why the Huron track will be renamed after him next spring. It’s the relationships he’s formed over the years.
Former students and colleagues of Overbey’s spoke on his behalf at the Oct. 9 Board of Education meeting, where trustees voted to approve the naming of the track.
Frank Tinney spoke first. The 2004 graduate was offered scholarships to several NCAA Division I schools. He opted to run for Princeton’s varsity track and cross country team for four years.
“While Kent’s achievements as a coach are both abundant and obvious, it’s the work he does in developing the individual that sets him apart,” Tinney said. “As an athlete under Kent, it was always stressed that ‘books were first.’
“He constantly reminded me that my athletic accomplishments were nothing without comparable performances in the classroom.”
Mike Hanlon, a graduate from the class of 2003, also spoke.
“He’s coached some of the best teams and the best runners in state history,” Hanlon said, motioning to Tinney. “But he’s also taken hopeless cases, and made them all-state runners too — like the guy who’s talking right now.
“And what isn’t so much in those record books is the number of students who were hopeless cases in the classroom that he’s taken to college and high school graduation.”
Overbey’s dedication is apparent in time he spends helping his students and team, Hanlon said.
“He’s there running morning practice at 6 a.m with bagels. He’s there on Saturday mornings for long runs with Dexter Bakery donuts. He takes injured runners to the pool and sits on the side of the pool while they do workouts if they’re hurt.
“Every day, after school, he would go around the school and take cans out of the trash cans. A lot of people thought he was the janitor for a while. He took big bags over to Kroger to get refunds for the cans and then he put that money back into the track program.”
Andy Campbell was one of Overbey’s first runners in 1969. “And 15 years later,” he said, choking up, “he was at my wedding.” Now Overbey coaches Campbell’s son.
When Overbey stepped up to the podium, he didn’t talk about his accomplishments. Instead, he spoke mostly of his pride in his athletes, colleagues and mentors.
“The truth is, that was all nice,” Overbey said, referring to the speeches earlier in the night, “but I never really did much. I had great people, great co-coaches and assistant coaches.
“I always had great individuals, starting all the way back in the Dark Ages with Andy Campbell.”
Later, Overbey added: “All of these people are a testament to themselves.”
Overbey’s modesty was apparent during his remarks, and especially at the end: “Thank you very much. This is a great honor,” he said as he began to walk away, motioning to all the supporters behind him. “And I really wondered who they were talking about.”
A fitting honor. Kent was a great Humanities teacher, and an inspirational coach.
More Kent stories: he arranged to have pine trees planted around the track to act as a bit of a windbreak against the strong winds of March and April. Kent watered them himself, and inspired various runners to help out. In the end few trees survived to maturity, but it was quite an undertaking; when driving from town out to Huron, to save gas he would drive his car (VW wagon?) as far as the Arboretum, then turn off the engine and then coast as far as he could. I think he got as far as The Racquet Club; as a history teacher, he was fond of explaining conflict as “The fat cats vs. the lean, wiry, hungry dogs.”
Kent Overbey did a lot more for Huron than coach track and cross. He along with Jay Stielstra, John Nordlinger, Ed Klum, and others set the philosophical tone for River Rat athletics that persists to this day. Compared to other high schools, Huron has always taken the ethical, sportsmanlike, and student centered higher ground. That is Kent’s legacy. I am happy that the AAPS Board had the good sense to recognize Kent in this way. Naming the track in his honor further solidifies everything that River Rat athletics has always stood for.
I first met Kent in his Humanities office. I introduced myself and let him know that I wanted to try out for track. I ran distance for 3 years. It was a privilege to have known him and all the memories of the teams, the guys and listening to his wisdom and humor. Great job Huron for naming the track after him.
Coach Overbey used to always say ” we need warm and breathing bodies” when he was looking for new talent. He always believed that he could turn average into extraordinary, and he always did. His work with less privileged track athletes paid off in big ways – state championship berths and victories, college scholarships, a new generation of coaches and life in general.
Huron Class of 1985