DeGrado returns to ACCC track helm



July 23, 2011 - 12:00 AM

Settling into his office in Allen County Community College’s fitness center in the activities building is nothing new for Vince DeGrado. It’s deja vu.
DeGrado began his second stint as ACCC’s head track and cross country coach earlier this month. DeGrado has plans for a better run at Allen County than his first time here.
“Allen County took a chance on a 24-year-old, thought-he-knew-it- all kid right out of college. When I left here, I took the job at Cowley County knowing I needed to learn aspects of coaching I didn’t have then,” DeGrado said of his first job. He was at Allen County from 2005 to August of 2007.
Not to say DeGrado’s time here was not successful. He had the Red Devil cross country and track programs on the upswing. During that time his athletes set or tied 22 school records, he coached nine NJCAA All-Americans and had 31 national meet qualifiers.
In 2006, Allen County had full cross country squads to enter in both men and women competition. The ACCC men finished ranked 22nd in the nation. Both men and women finished third in the Jayhawk Conference.
“We were improving the programs here but I saw an opportunity with the Cowley job and went there,” DeGrado said of his leaving ACCC in 2007. “I see an opportunity here at Allen now and I wanted to come back and create the environment for the type of success we experienced at Cowley.
“I fully believe that culture and environment can be created anywhere. And I believe in us doing it here at Allen.”
Under DeGrado, who was head cross country coach and assistant track coach at Cowley County, the Tiger cross country teams had the greatest season in NJCAA history in 2010. The Cowley County men and women swept every championship event.
Cowley County won the Jayhawk Conference and Region VI men and women’s cross country championships. Then they won the NJCAA Division 1 cross country national championships for both men and women, following that up with the sweep of the NJCAA  Half-Marathon Classic.
No program in the history of NJCAA had ever pulled off that feat. DeGrado pointed to the fact that all runners on the Cowley County men’s team were American-born and only one international runner was on the women’s team. DeGrado was named 2010 NJCAA National Coach of the Year in cross country.
Clinton Fletcher, who had been the ACCC head track and cross country coach for the past five years, was hired as DeGrado’s assistant coach in 2007 just before he left for Cowley County.
“At Cowley County, I learned the business side of coaching like being more efficient and the paperwork. I did a lot of growing and developing as a coach. I am a big believer in developing junior college programs with local kids and along with some out-of-state student-athletes,” DeGrado said.
DeGrado and his wife, Martha (O’Conner) who is an Iola native, discussed what else he could do as a coach, especially in cross country, at the junior college level. He said he had reached the pinnacle with the dual national championships at Cowley County.
“But there’s more to do. That type of culture can be created here. Iola is a cross country/track community and I know the support is here for the sports,” DeGrado said.
DeGrado was recently named the 2010-2011 Verizon Wireless Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference Men and Women’s Coach of the Year.
DeGrado coached the distance and mid-distance runners in track for Cowley County. Distance is his speciality but had strong showings among sprinters and jumpers even here at ACCC the first time as head coach.
“I’m strong on teaching technique and how to train to improve times and marks.” DeGrado said.
“We just hired Bryce Johnson, who is a former ACCC track athlete, to be our assistant coach. I’m looking forward to having him here as an asset to our program.”
DeGrado said he was grateful for Allen County wanting him to come back. He said he had student-athletes who are following him to Allen County and several others who had called and asked to come now that he is at Allen County.
“It’s about creating the environment for any athlete to thrive and improve.
“Plus I’m at that time in my life I want to focus on family more. I’ve always thought Iola was a good place to raise children.”
The DeGrados have two children, Natalie, 10, and Braiden, 9.

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