JOPLIN -- After 24 seasons at Missouri Southern, longtime men's track and field and cross country coach Tom Rutledge announced his retirement today, taking effect next June.
The retirement had a bit of icing on the cake, per say, as the city of Joplin officially proclaimed "Tom C. Rutledge Day" in Joplin on Monday, Nov. 19. The announcement, made in City Council chambers, came as a surprise to Rutledge.
"The Council was honored to present him with that award," said Joplin mayor Melodee Colbert-Kean. "We know Coach Rutledge has been an integral part of Missouri Southern sports, helping to develop several world class track and field athletes. It continues to show the high quality level of expertise and success that comes out of the city of Joplin."
The 2012-13 academic year is his 24th as head men's cross country/track & field coach at Missouri Southern. He has led the Lions to eight MIAA cross country championships (2000-03, 2005-07, 2009) and two MIAA Indoor Track & Field championships (2004, 2007), ten championships in nine years.
"Tom Rutledge has been the heart and soul of Missouri Southern track and field and cross country since the programs' inception," said Director of Athletics Jared Bruggeman. "His tireless dedication to the many, many student-athletes that he has mentored over the years will be sorely missed. Whether it is coaching, or the countless hours he put in over the years to make the Southern Stampede what it is today, his impact to this athletic department, the University and the community is beyond measurement."
His MSSU cross country team has made ten team appearances in the last 13 years at the NCAA Division II Championships, always finishing in the top 20, but highlighted by a sixth-place national finish in 2000 and a seventh-place showing in 2002, as well as an eighth-place finish this year.
For his efforts, Rutledge was named MIAA Men's Cross Country Coach of the Year in 2000, 2002, 2003, 2007 and 2009 and Indoor Coach of the Year in 2004 and 2007. He was also honored as South Central Region Indoor Track & Field Coach of the Year in 1999, 2004 and 2007, and South Central Region Cross Country Coach of the Year in 2007 for his contributions to the sport. Rutledge was inducted as a member of the MSSU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2008.
He has mentored eight cross country All-Americans and 55 in track & field, several of the 55 achieving multiple All-American statuses. He has had numerous student-athletes earn academic awards, both on the conference and national levels. In 2005, the pole vaulters took the top five positions in the MIAA Outdoor Conference and took the top three finishes at the NCAA Outdoor National Championships, a rarely achieved accomplishment for one school.
In the spring and summer of 2000, he coached Tongula Givens, a former Missouri Southern national champion in the triple jump, as she made her bid for the U.S. Olympic Team.
Rutledge became head cross country coach in 1989 when Southern first developed its men's and women's teams. Prior to coaching track and field, he had served as offensive line coach and special team coordinator for the Lions during the 1988 season
Missouri Southern hosted its first cross country meet, "The Southern Stampede," just over 20 years ago. The event is held the third Saturday in September.
The first year the event brought in only 39 runners. This year, over 2000 runners took part, representing over 100 schools. The event generates hundreds of thousands of dollars each year for the city of Joplin. With the exception of one year due to lightning, the Southern Stampede has been held every year since its inception.
"Track and field cross country has been good to me," Rutledge commented after the proclamation. "I was at the right place in the right time."
An assistant professor of kinesiology, Rutledge received a bachelor's degree in physical education and social studies from Ouachita Baptist University in 1974 and a master's degree in physiology of exercise from Henderson State University in 1976.
Tom is most proud of his efforts to bring track and field to the four states area. In the last twenty-four years he has served as meet director for five national cross country championships (AAU and NCAA) and seven regional cross country championships. These events have brought thousands of athletes and spectators to Joplin and nearly two million dollars of revenue to the community. The annual cross country Southern is one of the largest cross country meets in the country.
Tom is married to Karen, a local State Farm agent. They have two sons, Chad and Kyle. Chad, a State Farm agent, and his wife Becky and granddaughters Morgan and Allyson and grandson Ethan, live in Salt Lake City. Kyle, a former All-American pole vaulter for MSSU, and his wife Natalie and granddaughter Emery live in Pittsburg, KS where he is an assistant track coach at Pittsburg State University.
Rutledge's retirement will become official in June of 2013.