PEORIA – When Haley Weidner remembers a promise, she doesn’t
Bureau Valley didn’t quite bring a charter bus to Saturday’s IHSA Cross Country State Meet at Peoria’s Detweiller Park, but the memory of such promises between the Storm senior and coach Dale Donner will be something the two will remember for a long time.
“He told me that if I got our team to state our senior year, he would get us a charter bus,” Weidner said of her coach.
That was 3 years ago. Weidner brought up the idea again before the postseason.
“We didn’t get it, but he still promised,” Weidner said. “I brought it up to him a few weeks back, and he said we’d do it if we did.”
Such occasions are special, and Saturday’s meet was for a couple of reasons – it marked an end of an era for both Donner and Weidner. This season was Donner’s last as head coach, a position he’s been in for 20 years.
Weidner, a senior, completed her cross country career with a 47th-place finish in 18 minutes, 54 seconds on a wet and muddy course.
“One day doesn’t make your legacy,” Donner said, “and she leaves a lasting legacy at Bureau Valley.”
As will Donner, who took over the Storm cross country program in 1998 from Don Guier. Donner guided Storm teams to five regional titles with the boys and three more with the girls, reaching pinnacles with the 2001 boys team that finished second at state, and the 2004 girls team that placed fourth. The 2015 Illinois Track and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Famer coached six boys and five girls to all-state medals, including Weidner sisters Regan and Haley.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Donner said. “Some people dread what they’ve done in life, but I have loved everything we’ve done at this school. We’ve had great experiences [at state], we’ve been down here many times. Usually, we’ll walk out with a smile on our face and looking forward to next year.
“It’ll be a longer trip home maybe for me this year. Usually I’m chirping and talking about next year ... I’ll still be chirping and talking about next year to them probably.”
Donner isn’t just there for his own kids, but also kids who he has seen compete with his own over the years. That’s something that Newman coach Pat Warkins likes about Donner.
“He’s a great guy,” Warkins said. “He’s here for the kids. I saw him [near the course] rooting for other teams since he didn’t have any boys here. He’s always complimentary to the kids. I’m sure we’ll see him around, but it’s going to be kind of different because since I’ve been coaching, he’s been coach at Bureau Valley.”
“Our area had some great finishes,” Donner said. “I congratulate Hey from Newman, who finished top-four. That’s a heck of an accomplishment for a freshman.”
Storm assistant Daniel Sinclair will take the reins from Donner after this season. Throughout the day Saturday, Donner was rehashing stories to his successor about the trophy-winning teams and top athletes like Jason Bill, who was Class A runner-up in 2001; and Regan Weidner, who was 1A runner-up in 2012.
“He’s taught me a lot about learning to love to run, having a good mindset, and being mentally tough,” Haley Weidner said. “He’s been a great coach the last 4 years.”
“I’ve had a lot of great memories,” Donner said, “and have been blessed to have a lot of, not just great kids, but great families that have come through. The family network at our school has supported our school, and will come back and continue to support our school, even when the kids have gone. That’s what makes this program so great. That’s what I’m going to miss.”
High school: Carlinville
First year as Storm head coach: 1998
Top state finishes: 2nd (2001 boys), 3rd (2004 girls)
Regional championships: 8 (5 boys, 3 girls)
All-state runners: 11
FYI: Has coached track and field at Buda Western and Bureau Valley since 1984. ... Indiucted into ITCCCA Hall of Fame in 2015. ... Bureau Valley Invite has been renamed in his honor.