Sinz, VandenHeuvel make changes at MHS

Merrill High school is facing a couple of key changes in its athletic program, but the school feels it is well prepared for the future.
Activities Director Jordan Sinz is leaving to work into the principal’s job at his alma mater, Edgar, and boys track coach Kurt VandenHeuvel will take on the additional cross country duties from long-time coach Greg Eichelkraut. Eichelkraut will continue as girls track coach.
On the Sinz move, it’s not only a chance to head home, but to move up the ladder.
“I’d say it’s exciting but bittersweet,” Sinz said. “It’s exciting to go home, but sad to leave behind the great group of people that I love working with.
“It will be a tremendous challenge to take on this new role, but I’m obviously excited to work in my home town.”
Sinz will be the Dean of Students until he finishes up his studies and receives his principal’s license.
“There are eight courses in sequence,” he said. “I took five this year, so I have three more to finish up.”
It isn’t a common shift-from AD to principal-but one that MHS principal Shannon Murray thinks Sinz is well-prepared to make.
“He’s been taking administration classes, and we’ve given him opportunities that a lot of activities directors don’t have,” he said. “He’s had experiences here that are much more in line with (a principal’s job).
“He helped us and we helped him and it worked out for both of us in the end. Well, maybe better for him because we need an activities director, but the program is in a really good place. It’s turnkey. It’s not like we’re looking for someone to turn around our activities program.
“Jordan brought in things, such as how to evaluate our program and how to evaluate coaches, so we’re in a much better place for the future. He even had the coaches sit down in a collaborative effort, that’s practically unheard of. They discussed what we are doing well, what do we need to work on, and things like program-wide weight training and program-wide off-season stuff.
“He just did a great job. In two years he brought our activities department to a new level.”
Murray can also empathise with the Sinz decision.
“His situation was much like mine,” Murray said. “He’s going home. I’m really delighted for him. I’m happy personally, because he’s a great guy.”
A new AD will be in place soon, if Murray has his way.
“We’re posting it,” he said. “We’re trying to find a replacement, and we expect to have somebody by mid-summer. That’s our goal.”
Cross training
VandenHeuvel is excited to take on this new responsibility.
“When the cross country job opened up, I jumped at it,” he said. “I like new challenges. I like learning new things.
“I’m looking forward to taking over and doing my best. I’ll do things pretty much the same way as I did in track. I’ll try to get as many kids out and we’ll work hard to accomplish our goals. At the same time, I’ll make it enjoyable and something that the kids can get some success out of.”
VandenHeuvel knows this job provides different challenges. He has coached track for five years, including head jobs at the middle and high school level for a year apiece. He has also assisted in football.
“The biggest thing I guess is the transition from all the different types of events, to one endurance event,” he said. “Track is a lot of technicality and fine-tuning, cross is more or less the endurance aspect of it. Recovery and lactic threshhold are things I’m pretty familiar with. In college I took a triathlon training course and competed in a couple of triathlons.
“It’s definitely going to test my coaching abilities. Overall it’s going to make me a better coach trying to get the best out of both males and females.”
Murray backed the selection. “Kurt’s a very quality coach,” he stated. “He’s got a passion. Kurt is very serious about what he does, but he’s very student-friendly and athlete-friendly. I think he’ll do a great job.”
Sinz added, “I’m extremely impressed with what Kurt has done as a teacher and coach.”
Murray also noted the contributions of Eichelkraut.
“Kraut did a nice job for us for a long time,” he said. “We’re certainly grateful. Jordan and Kraut just felt it was time for a change.”
Sinz backed that up.
“Kraut gave a ton of time,” he said. “He was very dedicated to the program and still is in track. He’s been a great asset to the program. I’m sure he’ll still serve as a mentor, and offer advice when Kurt asks for it.”
Eichelkraut looked back fondly on his two-decade cross country leadership.
“It was a terrific experience,” he said “I grew to really appreciate cross country. The young athletes that put their heart into it got a lot out of it.
“I had the privilege of meeting some very good athletes that I might not have otherwise met. I had the privilege of helping get the first Merrill girls team to state (2001).
“I compare track and field to Saturday night with the rock and roll turned up, while cross country is settling down and reading a book in front of the fireplace. Learning the subtleties helped me as a track coach, too.”
Still he knew it was time.
“After 20 years I started feeling tugs in different directions that cross country conflicted with,” Eichelkraut said. “I knew there were others out there who could take over the reins and do a good job.”

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