The Student News Site of Harvard-Westlake School

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

The Student News Site of Harvard-Westlake School

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

The Student News Site of Harvard-Westlake School

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

Coach K: Wolverine For Life

Track and Field Program Head Jonas Koolsbergen ’83 reflects on his ongoing career at the school, now finishing his 39th year of coaching.
Track+and+Field+Program+Head+Jonas+Koolsbergen+83+gives+a+pregame+speech+before+the+teams+meet.
Darlene Bible
Track and Field Program Head Jonas Koolsbergen ’83 gives a pregame speech before the team’s meet.

During a track and field practice at Harvard School in 1982, Cross Country and Track and Field Program Head Jonas Koolsbergen ’83 planted his spikes in the rubber track and got in his four-point stance. He took a deep breath, keeping his eyes on the middle lane. As soon as he heard his coach’s signal, Koolsbergen drove his legs with an explosive movement and began to accelerate. His legs came one after the other, as he sped through the straightaway and turned the curve with perfect technique. Before he knew it, the 200-meter exercise was over and Koolsbergen earned the best time. Koolsbergen said his passion for running track at Harvard School fostered his lifelong interest in the sport.

“I loved [track and field] in high school,” Koolsbergen said. “I wasn’t a CIF star, but I was one of the best people on our team. I was definitely one of the people on our team who was the most into it. I was someone that our coach could lean on to rally things and get things done. And I just felt like I had more to do.”

Koolsbergen graduated from Harvard School in 1983, and went on to run track and field at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Koolsbergen eventually transferred to the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) where he continued running track and field and also competed in the decathlon, a combined event consisting of 10 individual track and field events.

While at UCSB, Koolsbergen was a part-time assistant coach at Harvard School for the track and field team and continued serving as an assistant coach after graduating. After the official merger between Harvard School and Westlake School in 1989, Koolsbergen assumed the role of head coach of both boys’ and girls’ track and field teams.

As a result of the merger in 1989, several teaching spots opened up, which prompted Koolsbergen to begin teaching history in addition to coaching track and field. Koolsbergen said teaching history at the school for 15 years gave him valuable insight into the academic experience of the school’s students.

“I really enjoyed [teaching],” Koolsbergen said. “With Harvard-Westlake students, one of the best parts I enjoyed was the classroom interaction and the classroom discussion. Even when you’re teaching younger grades, you’re working with younger people, who are so smart, and the things that you talk about are really interesting.”

Koolsbergen, who has been the only head coach in the school’s track and field program history, said the biggest change in the program he has noticed over the years was the caliber at which the teams competed.

“Now we have won multiple CIF team championships, won lots of CIF individual championships, have made noise at the state meet, were state champions and have had multiple national records,” Koolsbergen said. “Those are the kinds of things in the time that I was a student here or when I first started coaching here that felt almost unimaginable.”

Koolsbergen said an overarching goal of the program is developing all athletes to their full potential.

“There are people who didn’t ever think they could be really good or be meaningful members of the varsity team,” Koolsbergen said. “When they achieve that, they are sort of an unrecognizable athlete from where they started. That’s so rewarding. That is the heart and soul of what we try to do is bring everybody to a point where they can improve and have a tremendous experience.”

Cross country head coach Tim Sharpe, who has coached cross country and track and field alongside Koolsbergen since 2003, said Koolsbergen’s special talent as a coach is being able to strengthen every person in the program in their own unique way.

“When we get new coaches, he understands how to make their jobs easier,” Sharpe said. “He may pick up the slack and do a lot of the little details so they only need to focus on coaching, but it’s more than that. He helped them evolve and become better coaches throughout their careers. But he does the same thing with athletes, and I think this is [Koolsbergen’s] superpower. This ability to help both athletes and coaches and put them in the best spot to be successful.”

Mason Walline ’25, who switched from cross country to track and field in his freshman year, said Koolsbergen’s coaching style especially benefits newer members of the team.

“[Koolsbergen] makes it very clear that anyone can be on the track team,” Walline said. “He tries to inspire a sense of potential within yourself to get better. Not only to up your fitness, but especially to learn a technique of running that you wouldn’t really think about.”

Koolsbergen is currently the fourth-longest tenured staff member at the school, behind History teacher Katherine Holmes-Chuba, Interdisciplinary Studies teacher Rob Levin and Athletics Director Darlene Bible. Bible said Koolsbergen’s long history at the school is a testament to his dedication to the school as well as its cross country and track and field programs.

“Coach Koolsbergen is a Wolverine through and through,” Bible said. “He has been here either as a student or a coach since 1977 for 43 years, although he was away at college for four years. He loves this place and puts his heart into everything he does here. Cross country and track and field are his passion, and he works very hard to make sure the teams are successful.”

In a Mission league meet with Alemany, Crespi and Louisville on April 10, Koolsbergen notched his 500th career victory as a coach at the school. Koolsbergen said his many wins are a tribute to his longevity as well as the program’s excellence.

“[Five-hundred wins] means a lot, because it’s an accumulation of years of effort and years of coaching and years of work,” Koolsbergen said. “It just shows that we’ve been doing terrific things as a program for a very long time. As I talked to other coaching friends, they’re surprised that the number is that high. They look at their own number, and say ‘Wow, that’s a lot.’ And it is, so I take great pride in that.”

Currently finishing his 39th year of coaching track and field, Koolsbergen said he has found immense purpose and meaning in his job as a coach.

“You meet a lot of adults in your life who don’t like their job, but I love my job,” Koolsbergen said. “And that’s an incredible privilege. A lot of people through the twists and turns of their life don’t find the thing they’re really well suited for, and I have the great experience of having found the thing I’m tremendously well suited for, and I will humbly try to say, very good at. Some people trudge through something that is medium-rewarding to them and medium-important to them, and I do something I’m all about. That is something that you hope and wish everyone has, but the truth is not everyone does.”

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Justin Tang, Assistant Sports Editor

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