As a youngster Dean Slavens dreamed of becoming a basketball coach.
While that dream didn’t pan out, the 72-year-old has had a very successful 50-year coaching career in the sport of track and field.
“The good Lord led me in a different way,” Slavens said. “But I wouldn’t change it even if I could.”
Slavens will be recognized for his accomplishments in track and field when he serves as the Honorary Referee for the 71st running of the Goshen Relays for high school boys track Saturday at Foreman Field.
“It’s a great honor. One that is very humbling,” Slavens said. “I really appreciate Larry Kissinger (Goshen High School Athletic Director) for giving me this honor in my 50th season of coaching.”
This will be his 37th year working as a volunteer at the Relays.
“I ran the high jump for years,” he said. “Then I moved to clerk. As a clerk you check athlete’s numbers, their uniforms and make sure competitors aren’t wearing any jewelry. We also give them the instructions for the event they are running.”
He recalled one memorable Relays when he was coaching at Goshen.
“We started the day out with bright sunshine, then we had rain showers by noon and snow in the afternoon,” Slavens said. “You never know what kind of weather you are going to get at the Relays.”
Slavens has also been a clerk for the Goshen Girls Relays since the first year in 1990.
“I enjoyed my time in Goshen and I love coming back here for the Relays,” he said. “I get to see some of my former athletes. Guys like Greg Cook, Doug Bontrager and Lloyd LeCount.”
He began his coaching career in the Goshen school system at the elementary school level. After a couple of seasons the GHS coach Bill Walker asked him to help with the freshman team.
“When Bill left I got the job for the 1964-65 season,” Slavens said.
Among the athletes he coached at Goshen were Rick Clark, Dave Juday, John Stafford, Steve Cotherman and Greg Tingwald.
Besides Goshen, he has coached at Niles East in Skokie, Ill.; Fort Wayne North Side; Fort Wayne Northrop and Homestead.
“We won a state championship while I was at Northrop,” He said. “We set a record for the most points scored that still stands.”
He is currently an assistant coach at Fort Wayne Canterbury.
During his career he has coached 55 state finalists with 80 percent of them placing, many of them according to Slavens before the places were expanded to the top nine.
He has also coached a national AAU champion in the 440-yard dash while at Niles East and a state AAU championship team in 1967 while at Goshen.
Slavens grew up in Fowler, Ind., located in Benton County, northwest of Lafayette. He graduated from Delphi High School where he competed in cross country, basketball and track.
He went on to graduate from Manchester College. He ran track at Manchester, setting records in long jump, the 440 (now 400 meters) and the mile relay (now 4 x 400).
His teaching career spanned 39 years.
Dean and his wife Janice have been married for 53 years. The couple has two daughters: Tammy Runyan who lives in Florida and Sonya Emerick who lives in Whitley County. They have four grandchildren.
Slavens has coached two of his grandsons. One at Columbia City and the other at Canterbury.
“I’m very appreciative of my family,” Slavens said. “You don’t coach 50 years without the support of your wife and family.”
Slavens is also a track official. He has worked the Midwest Meet of Champions that brings the top seniors from Indiana, Ohio and Michigan together in one meet. He founded what is now the Hoosier State Relays, which is the state high school indoor championship meet.
He was the Indiana Track and Field Official of the Year in 1991 and the USA Track and Field Official of the Year in 2004.
Slavens has been an official at the Indiana boys and girls state championships for the past 30 years.
He has been an official at the Pan American Games Trials, at the Big Ten Championships, the first World Indoor Championships at the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis and the Olympic Trials.
He had contact with a couple of big names in the sport during his career.
“One year at the Olympic Trials it was my job to submit any world records and Flo-Jo (Florence Griffith-Joyner) set three of them” Slavens said. “She was a nice lady. I also encountered Carl Lewis in the block area.
“Those were some great experiences for me.”
Slavens was inducted into the Indiana Track Hall of Fame in 2004.
As a youngster Dean Slavens dreamed of becoming a basketball coach.
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