After over 50 years of involvement in high school athletics, coach Brian Hoff has watched many athletes he's coached, use the skills of personal endurance, goal setting and perseverance help them in their adult life. (Photo by Mary Whalen)
After over 50 years of involvement in high school athletics, coach Brian Hoff has watched many athletes he's coached, use the skills of personal endurance, goal setting and perseverance help them in their adult life. (Photo by Mary Whalen)
Escaping the chill of subzero temperatures, Brian Hoff of rural Wykoff headed to Houston, Texas, last week where he was able to watch one of the runners he coached at Kingsland High School, Chris Erichsen, compete in the Olympic Marathon Trials. The top three finishers qualified for the U.S. Olympic Team for the 2012 London Olympics. Erichsen finished 40th.

Great coaches are thrilled to see athletes compete and recently retired Kingsland cross-country coach Brian Hoff has accumulated many treasured memories of his athletes' victories over the 25 years he coached.

A statement made by six-time national coach of the year recipient UCLA basketball coach John Wooden defines Hoff's coaching career. Wooden said, "There is a choice that you have to make, in everything you do. So keep in mind that in the end, the choice you make, makes you."

Son of Earl and Eloise Hoff of Preston, Hoff's life has been entwined with running sports for over five decades. In high school, he participated in basketball, track and cross-country, competing at the state level four years in track and field and senior year in cross-country. Before his graduation from Preston-Fountain High School in 1976, Coach Zimmerman nominated Hoff to be included in "Who's Who of High School All-Americans."

Hoff was on the Golden Valley Lutheran College (GVLC) cross-country and track team from 1976 to 1978 under coach Severt Legred. However, due to injuries, he took a couple years off and worked before going back to school from 1980 to 1983 at Winona State University (WSU) where he earned a teaching degree in industrial arts education (tech ed) and earned his coaching certification, while being a coach and athlete at WSU.

His impressive collegiate career in track shows competitions in state, regionals and nationals at GVLC, earning Hoff both All-Region and All-American honors in track, plus he ran track at WSU earning All-Conference honors.

During those years, one of his biggest fans has been his wife, Carolyn Hoff, who grew up on a dairy farm just outside of Preston. They had been high school sweethearts. In 1980, Brian and Carolyn Hoff were married and their lives were blessed with three children, Erik, Shannon and Tyler.

Grandparenting is taking top priority for the Hoffs as Erik and his wife, Kelsey, have a daughter, Kennedy, and Shannon and her husband, Mitchell Buchholtz, have two boys, Parker and Kellin. Last August, as cross-country season was just getting underway, Kellin and Kennedy were born just 10 days apart.

Family has always been Hoff's first priority even as coaching filled so much of his time.

"I enjoy hunting and time spent with family and friends and especially our three grandchildren." Hoff remarked. "As my family would say, being a runner and a coach pretty well defines me. It's the relationships that you've built and the friends that you've made that define you, rather than wins and losses. Through high school, college, coaching and officiating, I have had the opportunity to build relationships/friendships with athletes and colleagues across the state and throughout the Midwest. I have also had opportunities to be involved in and see some great competitive events around the country, including a number of national collegiate events (Drake Relays, NCAA's) that former athletes were competing in, as well as the opportunity to spend several days at the USATF Outdoor Nationals."

Besides his coaching and officiating, Brian Hoff's full-time job is as an appraiser, working for the Fillmore County Assessor's Office. In his spare time he works on building projects around their home.

The choices Brian Hoff has made in his life clearly define his character, especially when those decisions have not been easy ones.

"Over the years there have been several occasions where I had to make a choice between a better paying regular job and maintaining a job where I was able to continue coaching," he said. "With the support of my wife, Carolyn, we decided that I needed to be coaching."

Hoff said that he looks back on one of those decisions and he shared the following saying from an unknown author with the boys and girls teams one afternoon. That saying was, "A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove...but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.'"

Years down the road, the world may be changed for the better on account of the dedication Hoff has shown to coaching but in the here-and-now, personal benefits have already surfaced in his experiences of coaching the Kingsland cross-country team.

"As a coach I was especially inspired while watching kids, who were not natural runners, learn the basic running mechanics and blossom over time into good, solid runners," said Hoff.

Seeing the potential in individual runners and challenging them to set high goals, then helping them strive to reach their goals, using motivation so they can "believe" in themselves as much as he did is one of Hoff's personal attributes.

"The 2003 boys 4x800-meter relay team had their eyes on state for three or four years," said Hoff. "I wrote down a time (8:03) in the 'crow's nest' and one of the boys asked what that was for, and I told them that was their time for the 4x800. The team progressed through sub-section, section and then to state where they really pulled it all together and hit 8:03.6 to win the state championship."

High school cross-country coaches rarely get a chance to watch the finish of the race, because they are out coaching individual athletes at various places on the course to give their best, yet Hoff remembers some outstanding experiences as a coach.

"Taking our top individuals and the girls teams to the State CC Meet will always be a great memory," Hoff shared. "Brad Erichsen and Tony Calabrese of Toad Productions did a lot of video-taping during those years, along with others. We are fortunate to have those season's highlights on DVDs to cherish those memories. Watching the 2007 boys' team surprise a lot of other teams and coaches with their performances to claim the Three Rivers Conference Championship was one of the great team memories."

Each year the Kingsland Cross-Country Camp was held at Forestville. Besides the training during the camp, the time was designed to build team camaraderie and several service projects were completed during the camp, allowing the team a chance to learn to "give back" to the community. Service projects completed have been tree transplanting, water bar and trail maintenance, native prairie seed collection, sinkhole clean-up, tree and shrub pruning in the camp ground areas, clearing buckthorn/invasive species, as well as other projects.

Park manager Mark White shared, in an August 2010 article in the Spring Valley Tribune, that he was "thrilled to have the Kingsland cross-country team out at Forestville for their annual camp. The volunteerism is an incredible part of the program and provides benefits to the park visitors, taxpayers and the environment. The Kingsland cross-country program is a tremendous asset to the community."

The coaching that the Kingsland Knights cross-country team has enjoyed over the years has not just been good advice to help them run faster, it has been a driving motivation that has inspired them to persevere.

Hoff believes, as Eddie Robinson relayed, "Coaching is a profession of love. You can't coach people unless you love them."

At Kingsland, the coaching staff for both cross-country and track and field consistently made the commitment for improving their knowledge about coaching by attending the Minnesota Coaches Clinic each year.

Hoff explained that he and the other coaches had all taken the USA Track and Field, Level One, training.

"I would venture to say Kingsland was fortunate to have had such a dedicated and knowledgeable staff," he added. "It was probably one of very few schools of its size with four USATF Level One certified coaches. Although, I had stepped down as a paid coach from track and field, I was invited back as a volunteer assistant to help out when available."

One can only imagine the possibilities future Kingsland athletes could attain if an all-weather track would be added for practicing and allowing Kingsland to host home events. "I would like to challenge the Kingsland Athletic Booster Club to commit to a major project of raising funds to build a new all-weather track," added Hoff.

Athletes and their parents acknowledge Hoff's commitment to the running sports of Kingsland. Father of two collegiate athletes, Tony Calabrese was Hoff's assistant coach for the last few years.

He said, "A very giving coach who always had the best interest of his runners in mind, Brian made every runner feel important, regardless of skill level. He carefully designed realistic workout goals for each runner, based upon their capabilities. Brian set high standards. Brian helped so many runners reach for their dreams, be it finishing their first race, earning a varsity letter or competing for a state championship."

Calabrese added that Hoff's loyalty to past runners he has coached is a testimony to the very special bond that he built with so many young people during their formative years.

"Brian Hoff - a very special man," he concluded.

Hoff expressed his gratitude in return. He said, "Thank you to my wife and family and to Tony Calabrese for volunteering his time these past three years as a volunteer assistant coach and to coach Mike Holzer for asking me to help out with track and field before Kingsland was Kingsland."

In conclusion, he said, "Finally, to all the athletes, coaches and parents from 1987 to present, it has been a good run!"