HEBER SPRINGS High school track-and-field participation in Arkansas has been on the decline for years, but that is not the case in Heber Springs.
Track and field and cross country are cool in Cleburne County, and the Panthers and Lady Panthers have the hardware to prove it.
Now they also have a pair of hall-of-fame coaches.
Dale Cresswell and Johnette Wilhite Goldman were inducted into the Arkansas Track and Field Hall of Fame earlier this summer in Little Rock.
“Coach Goldman and Coach Cresswell have done an outstanding job of promoting a sport that has seen a decline in our state of student-athletes over the years,” Heber Springs Athletic Director Brad Reese said. “Their numbers have remained strong, and the kids compete hard, not only for their coaches, but also for our school and community. We have many patrons come out to watch our kids run and compete. Our kids know this, and they don’t want to let them down.
“Unless you’re part of a relay, track is pretty much an individual sport. It’s just you against everyone else. The success we have had over the years shows how big a heart our kids have and how bad they want to finish on top.
“Coach Goldman and Coach Cresswell have continued that longstanding tradition, and it makes us all very proud to be a Heber Springs Panther.”
Cresswell and Goldman, the head coach of Heber Springs’ boys and girls track and cross-country squads, respectively, joined Randy Coleman, Jerry Hughes, Charles Lemley, Stuart Towns and Darrell Ward in the Arkansas Track and Field Hall of Fame’s 23rd induction ceremony at the Wyndham Riverfront in North Little Rock.
“The way I look at it, this is not my induction,” said Goldman, who has coached at Heber Springs since 1980. “There are hundreds of volunteers and hundreds of athletes who have gone through here over 37 years that made that possible.
“With the influences and contributions by tons of people, I feel like Heber Springs got inducted. It’s a compliment to our school and our town.”
Cresswell, 50, said he had been on the Hall of Fame’s master list for a few years.
“Everybody kept saying I was too young,” he said. “I guess I’m old now, but it was great to get that message that I was going to be inducted. It was awesome.”
The numbers are astonishing for the Heber Springs pair, who assist each other in the boys and girls programs.
Cresswell has led the Panthers to a record four triple crowns — a sweep of the cross-country, indoor and outdoor state championships in the same academic year.
The 1985 Heber Springs graduate, who has been head boys track coach at his alma mater since 2000 and head cross-country coach since 2005, has led the Panthers to seven cross-country state titles (2006, ’08, ’10, ’12, ’14, ’15 and ’16); seven indoor championships (2001, ’11, ’12, ’13, ’14, ’15 and ’17) and six outdoor titles (2011, ’12, ’13, ’15, ’16 and ’17).
Cresswell’s Panthers also have four state runner-up finishes in cross country, two in indoor track and two in outdoor track.
“At the induction ceremony, the emcee said something like, ‘Since 2010, we’ve been first or second 92 or 93 percent of the time,’” Cresswell said.
In fact, since 2005, the Panthers have won or finished runner-up in all three state meets every year except for three third places: 2009 cross country, 2013 outdoors and 2015 indoors.
The Panthers have lost just one outdoor conference meet since 1990.
Cresswell was chosen the Arkansas High School Coaches Association’s Boys Cross Country Coach of the Year in 2010-11, 2014-15 and 2016-17, and AHSCA Boys Track Coach of the Year in 2010-11, 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2014-15. He was the Arkansas Democrat-
Gazette’s All-Arkansas Preps Boys Track Coach of the Year this spring.
He recently found out he is the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association’s Boys Track Coach of the Year for Arkansas and is in the running for that organization’s national award.
The numbers and awards evoke those of retired Arkansas Razorback coach John McDonnell, a fellow ATFHF inductee who is the winningest coach in NCAA history.
All the titles perhaps make up for Cresswell himself never making it to the state meet. A pole vaulter, he qualified as a freshman.
“My coach told me, ‘You’ll have plenty of other chances,’ so I didn’t go,” Cresswell remembered. “But I got beat out by misses every other year. I think the highest I ever [jumped] was 13-9. We had better pole vaulters than me at Heber.”
Heber Springs also had Goldman, who arrived when Cresswell was a freshman. She has led the Lady Panthers to seven state cross-country titles (2004, ’05, ’06, ’07, ’12, ’13, ’16) and the 2001 indoor championship. Her teams finished state runner-up in cross country in 1990, ’92 and 2009; indoor track in 1992, ’94, 2006, ’10, ’12, ’13, ’14 and ’16 and outdoor track in 1989, ’90 and 2013.
“There’s just no way to explain the joy when we both win at the same time, when you can celebrate with the whole group and you’re not having to console one,” Goldman said. “A total Heber victory is wonderful.”
Goldman was the AHSCA’s Girls Cross Country Coach of the Year in 2013-14 and 2016-17; National Federation Interscholastic Coaches Association Section 6 Track and Field Outstanding Coach in 2014; National Federation of State High School Associations National Coach of the Year in Girls Cross Country in 2015; and USTFCCA Girls Cross Country Coach of the Year for Arkansas in 2016. She also works as an official for USA Track and Field and the Arkansas Officials Association.
Goldman received a Distinguished Citizens Award from the Arkansas House of Representatives in 2014 and was named Teacher of the Year for Heber Springs Schools in 2015-16.
“She’s been track and field for Heber Springs for 37 years,” Cresswell said. “When she does something, she does it 100 percent. She got the girls winning in cross country and track, especially in the conference. They’ve only lost one since 1980 or something like that.
“She volunteers to run track meets for colleges. When you talk about Heber track and field, it’s more her. I just coach here. She does stuff for track and field all over.”
Goldman, though, deflected credit.
“We’ve been very blessed with some outstanding runners, and it really doesn’t have a lot to do with us,” she said. “Then it seems like we have some little fellows coming up who see those guys ahead of them, and it’s just fed on itself.
“The kids have done it right. It’s kind of like one kid admires another one; he sees a goal and he just goes for it.”
Cresswell credits Goldman for another key to the program’s success.
“When I got cross country and track together (in 2005), I had always heard her say she wanted the boys and the girls to be coached by both coaches, so we’ve done track and cross country with the boys and girls together,” he said.
Goldman said the strategy had been particularly helpful for the Lady Panthers.
“They are always chasing the guys, and that helps them — if they’ve got drive,” she said. “To have someone to drive them helps a lot.”
The coaches compared their relationship to one of siblings.
“A lot of people say we fight like brother and sister, and we do,” Cresswell said, chuckling. “We get our points across to each other. She’s a great lady and I love her to death. She knows what she’s doing. I ask her a lot of questions and she asks me a lot of questions. And the kids love it when we start arguing.”
Goldman said, “I call him my little brat brother. He is a huge contribution to this program, obviously. He is very confident and assertive. We complement each other. I can work on things beforehand, and when it comes, I’m kind of nervous. He can just relax before it hits, and then when the lights come on, he takes charge.”
Another key, both said, was the foundation laid by former Panther coach Harold “Sonny” Wilson.
“He was a track guru,” Goldman said of the man hired the year before she was. “I learned a great deal from him.”
Cresswell ran track for Wilson and worked as his assistant before becoming head track coach.
“Here at Heber, ever since I’ve been around, we’ve always been good at track and cross country,” Cresswell said. “To me, winning doesn’t get old. But when we get a third, that’s not bad. Coach Wilson always said if you get third in anything in the state, you’ve done a good job.”
Wilson, a 2011 ATFHF inductee, said he was proud of both of his hall-of-fame protégés.
“I am very, very excited and very, very proud of both of them, and proud for the community,” he said. “This has been a long, ongoing process. This is a year-after-year-after-year thing they’ve got going on. The proof is in the pudding. They’re both doing outstanding jobs.”