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Matt Hellerer gives up coaching positions at St. Joe's

Matt Hellerer has been coaching runners at St. Joe's for 27 years. He says that's enough.

"I'll still be teaching there, but it's time for me to step aside as coach," Hellerer said. "I'm tired."

There will be a new man at the head of the program when cross-country season starts in the fall. Matt Dow will move up from the assistant coach's post to take over.

The position is one of the toughest acts to follow in Western New York high school sports, and Dow only has to walk by the Hall of Fame plaques on the wall in the school to realize that.

"It's just sinking in that I'm taking over one of the best jobs in the area," he said. "We've had Bob Ivory, Mike Diggins and Matt in that spot. Where do you go from here? That means a lot to me, that they had the confidence to give me this job."

The school has won 33 league championships in cross country and 31 in track and field over the years. Ivory, Diggins and Hellerer are all in the Western New York Running Hall of Fame, although Hellerer's resume for that honor was strengthened by his personal running achievements. Hellerer, a St. Joe's graduate in 1975 and a chemistry teacher at the school, has been thinking about cutting back on his schedule for a while.

"I don't know - maybe a year, year and a half," he said. "It creeps up on you. Six of my colleagues are retiring from teaching this summer. I thought, maybe I need a break."

Hellerer has been at the Kenmore Avenue school for more than a quarter of a century as a track coach, adding cross country to his plate in 2006. It's been quite a ride.

"I was lucky in 1990," he said. Athletic Director "Joe Wolf hired me. I had some experience in running, but there's a difference between running and coaching. It's a very different animal. He took a chance.

"It's amazing. Many of my best friends now are people I've coached. You develop a lifelong relationship with the kids long beyond the time they are in high school. You really get to know them. They learn that nothing is easy in life, and that you need to show up and do your job."

As it turned out, one of Hellerer's last moments as coach of the Marauders was one of his happiest. St. Joe's defended its All-Catholic team track title despite losing to both St. Francis and Canisius in dual meets during the regular season. The joy that was on the faces of Hellerer and his athletes when the results were announced was obvious.

"This year in particular was such a nail-biter," he said. "It was so gratifying. ... We had some really spectacular performances. It was out of a storybook."

Dow did get a few weeks of notice that Hellerer was ready to step down, saying that he was "completely surprised" when he heard about it.

"I think when he decided, he talked to our AD (Brian Anken) and said he wanted me to take over," Dow said. "It's nice to know that they have confidence in me."

Dow has been watching Hellerer while they were both on the job over the years - and making some mental notes.

"He has such a good rapport with the kids," he said. "He has the ability to get the kids to find another gear in themselves. He gets so much out of them. They love running for him."

Can Dow do the same thing as a head coach? Hellerer thinks he can.

"I don't doubt it for a second," he said. "He's already got the kids out running. He's very enthusiastic."

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