George of the Bulldogs
Former players organize surprise reception for longtime MHS track, cross country coach
A package of five of those simplistic musical instruments was presented to George Karn on Sunday in the McLouth school cafeteria.
Bryce Hoffhines gave the kazoos to Karn during a surprise reception commemorating his many years as McLouth High cross country and boys track coach. Karn will still teach at MHS, but he opted to retire from coaching after last spring's track season.
Of course, the kazoos, like other gifts Karn received Sunday, came with a story.
Hoffhines, a 2005 McLouth High graduate, recounted a trip to the Manhattan mall after a state cross country meet in Wamego.
Hoffhines picked up some kazoos in the mall arcade and Bulldog runners proceeded to jam with their new instruments on the way back to McLouth -- while Karn drove.
At one point, Karn had no more tolerance in the tank.
"Stop playing those gazebos," Karn shouted to his runners.
Of course, team members didn't correct the coach, and did their best to keep their laughter inside.
Hoffhines' story drew a roar of laughter from the more than 70 people in attendance.
"They knew what I was talking about," Karn said, defending his snafu.
Courtney Edmonds and Alayna Stewart, who graduated in 2003, were two more of Karn's runners. They organized the surprise event, sending out roughly 150 invitations. Edmonds said they scanned every yearbook since 1982, when Karn started coaching at MHS, and sent out invitations to former athletes and coaches according to the annuals.
"We might not all have gone on to be great runners, but he contributed to our character and who we are today," Edmonds said. "So we thought we should throw him a party."
Stewart said the surprise reception went well.
"I think everyone knew it was a success when he started balling at the end," Stewart said.
Another recent graduate, Brant Watson, presented a plaque to Karn. The longtime coach tried to read the words engraved on the plaque, but couldn't make it through without pausing as he broke into tears.
The plaque, complete with an MHS Bulldog, read:
Not just on the field
but in our daily lives
a coach gives inspiration
For this reason coach
you are a special part
of our life's motivation
"The plaque said it all," Edmonds said.
Karn, who will continue to teach industrial arts at McLouth, said the reception definitely took him by surprise, but he was suspicious of why his family wanted to make a trip to the high school.
"I was totally surprised," Karn said. "I couldn't figure out why my family wanted to look at pictures on the wall at the school."
Clint Pevril and his family made the six-hour jaunt from Mountain Home, Ark., to McLouth for Karn's celebration. Pevril, a former Kansas University cross country and track athlete, was McLouth's first cross country coach when the school district added the sport in 1992.
It was Karn who circulated a petition to start the sport and convinced the school board to introduce the fall sport in McLouth.
During Pevril's tenure, the MHS boys team finished second at state twice in Class 2A. Pevril left McLouth to teach and coach in his hometown of Mountain Home, Ark. He said Sunday that he urged Karn to take over the program. Karn, after all, recommended that the school board hire Pevril, who previously student taught at Eudora, as their first cross country coach.
"There's only one guy who can coach cross country, George and that's you," Pevril remembered saying to Karn when he left for his alma mater.
Pevril said he feared the program eventually would have been discontinued if Karn, who already had coached boys track for 15 years, hadn't been his predecessor.
Since Pevril left, he and Karn occasionally saw each other at cross country camps in Missouri.
He again had the opportunity to see Karn during the weekend, even though it took a few more gallons of gasoline.
"Oh, we were going to come up for George, whether it was six hours or 20 hours," Pevril said.
When it was Pevril's turn to talk about Karn, he said that "Coach Karn has had a big impact on me as a coach."
Ray Phillips, who graduated in 1997, ran for Pevril and Karn. Phillips shared a story about he and some teammates taking a shortcut during a cross country practice.
The teenagers thought they ran under the radar, but Karn didn't miss a beat.
"I know you guys cut through that corn field," Phillips said, remembering what Karn said to them when they returned to the locker room.
Phillips also said one of the runners had a piece of corn stalk stuck to his shoe.
"I had it on the clock," Karn said. "It was a world record."
In addition, he coached basketball as an assistant to McLouth teacher Steve Gish, who formerly coached high school basketball at MHS.
Gish said Karn had a knack for catching players who were out of line. During a game, one player made a gesture to opposing fans.
"George had them out of the game before I even had a chance," Gish said.
Mike Schwinn, a good friend of Karn's, had a pretty good golf tale to tell Sunday.
Schwinn was headed to a business trip one summer and he asked whether Karn and his family wanted to join he and his family to make it a summer vacation.
Schwinn invited Karn to golf, which he had never done previously.
At one point, Karn hit his golf ball and it sailed over a ridge. After searching the area, which included the green, they gave up.
They couldn't find the ball because it had landed in the cup.
Schwinn said Karn told him "this is a game I'm going to have to play" after sinking that shot.
He then presented Karn with company golf balls from that trip many years ago.
The story, like many others Sunday, brought chuckles. But Schwinn became serious after giving Karn his gift.
"A man's known by the people he influences," Schwinn said. "And George, you've done a good job."
Matt Scarlett, who now runs at Benedictine in Atchison, remembered how Karn would yell "Whoo!" and "Good job" while his Bulldogs were running. He also referred to some of his harriers as his squirrels.
"You are one of my favorite squirrels," Karn said to Scarlett.
Scarlett thanked Karn for all his guidance in high school and in college. Scarlett initially ran at Emporia State, but later found Benedictine more to his liking. Karn always was there to keep encouraging him.
"He's my perseverance," Scarlett said.
The word became a common theme during the reception, from a runner who said he initially "just went out for cross country because his friends did" and others who said Karn instilled a never-quit attitude in his athletes.
"He made life rich waking up at 6 a.m.," Edmonds said, referring to morning practices. "What high school kid can wake up that early and have fun at it?"
Of course, one early-morning practice proved to not be entertaining.
During the last few years, cross country runners started a tradition that they would camp out on the school campus the night before their last early-morning practice of the season.
A water tower is positioned southeast of the high school, and some runners decided to scale the tower one year.
When Karn arrived at the school, flashing sirens from McLouth police cars greeted him.
"I was a little perturbed," Karn said.
The Karn file
Karn graduated from Highland High School in 1972 and Highland Community College in 1976. He played football at HCC as a receiver before heading to Emporia State, from which he graduated in 1982.
From ESU, he headed to McLouth and has been there ever since.
During his tenure, the boys track squad won regional titles in 1984, 1985 and 1996, and finished as regional runner-up in 1991. The Bulldogs also finished second at state in 1985.
In cross country, highlights included Delaware Valley League titles in 1996 for boys and girls and a DVL girls title in 2001. The boys were league runner-up four consecutive years from 2001 to 2004.
The 2001 girls team was regional runner-up, while the 2003 boys won their regional.
At state the girls finished in the top eight in 2001 and 2002. In 2004, the girls finished third at league and third at regionals before vaulting to fifth at state.
The boys team finished fifth at state in 2003 under Karn.
For the first time in about 10 years, Karn isn't getting ready for another run at state cross country.
"Right now, it's wonderful," Karn said. "I won't have to set the old alarm for 4:30, 5 o'clock (in the morning)."