ALTAMONT — Craig Hartman, who recently retired from Labette County High School, was presented with a plaque from the Kansas Coaches Association for over 40 years of coaching service on Wednesday morning by members of the USD 506 administration.

After a brief photo op in Hartman’s home, he and his wife Leslie took the entourage to the backyard to show up a new treehouse they had constructed for their grandchildren. It took six weeks complete, Hartman said, and was a glimpse into his new life.

Hartman served as a coach in USD 506 for 42 years, since 1978.

From 1978-80, Hartman taught at and coached all the boys and girls sports at Edna Grade School.

“I started with some wonderful kids those first few years in Edna,” Hartman said. “It was a great place to start.” 

Then from 1980-2020, Hartman taught history and coaches various sports at Labette County High School for 40 years. Hartman spent four years as the freshman boys basketball coach, 30 years as the football coach with 16 as the head coach, and 40 years as a track coach with 35 years as the head coach.

“It’s a lifetime of having the opportunity to work with kids,” Hartman said. “I always enjoyed it. What I enjoyed the most was watching kids improve. I loved to see kids have opportunities to do their best and work hard. It’s important that we learn to work hard and achieve things.” 

Hartman had originally planned to move on from the USD 506 community after his stint in Edna, but instead chose to settle his roots for what has been the rest of his life here.

“I was going to teach at Edna for a couple of years then go somewhere else,” Hartman said. “But then I started at the high school and just continued to coach here. After I was through coaching football, I remained here.” 

Hartman averaged six wins per season during his tenure as head football coach for the Grizzlies, a stretch that included nine straight winning season from 1997-2005.

“The key to being successful is attitude, effort and fundamentals,” Hartman said. “With any team, there needs to be a sacrifice for the team. That requires those three things and you have to be on the same page no matter the sport.” 

Consistency was always Hartman’s chief philosophy.

“We practiced fundamentals over and over again,” Hartman said. “Repetition is very important. You have to practice well to perform well in the game, so we were always working on that.” 

From 1986-2020, when Hartman served as the head track coach at Labette County, the school produced 50 SEK League champions, 37 regional champions and five boys state champions.

A common thread is that kids have changed as time has gone on. Hartman, who spent 42 years coaching and teaching kids, fights back against that notion.

“I don’t know much about the kids have changed,” Hartman said. “The kids seem the same to me. I think society has changed and some of the parenting has. But the kids are still eager, work hard and listened. Kids always tried hard. So I don’t know that they’ve changed a whole lot.” 

How Hartman’s coaching career ended — his final track season canceled this past spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic — also leaves a lasting impression.

“It was a hard way to finish for all teachers and coaches,” Hartman said. “We weren’t able to have spring sports. We just need to do all we can every day. We never know what tomorrow holds. I felt especially sorry for our kids that didn’t get to compete this year.” 

Hartman and his wife now get to spend retirement focusing on their family while staying connected to a community they’ve made home.

“We enjoy this area and this community,” Hartman said. “I got the opportunity to work with some wonderful kids from the very first year to the very last year. The parents and community are supportive. I’ve worked with great assistant coaches. I always felt supported here.” 

As for Hartman’s legacy for Labette County, he hopes it’s summed up in a quote from former President Calvin Coolidge. 

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with great talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” 

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