KEARNEY — About three weeks ago, Kearney girls track coach Pat McFadden made the decision to step down as head coach at the end of this year.
"We need fresh legs," he said.
Monday, former Kearney High pole vaulter and current assistant girls coach Nate Polacek was named the new head coach.
"I knew when Coach McFadden informed me that he would like to step down as the head coach of the Bearcats that we would have a tremendous candidate on his staff to take on this enormous responsibility," KHS athletic director Ryan Hogue said in a press release. "Coach Polacek bleeds blue and gold. As a past Kearney High graduate, he understands the passion that this community has for track and what it takes to be successful in the track and field world."
McFadden said he believes the appointment of Polacek will maintain the level of excellence that has made the Bearcats the top team in Class A according to average placing at the state meet over the past 25-30 years.
McFadden will remain the girls cross country coach and plans to assist Polacek with the track program next year.
"What I wanted to accomplish in my decision was I wanted continuity. My hope is I’ll still be with the program. ... I’m still in the track and field business, I just won’t be in that head position."
With the number of girls on the Kearney High track team, the responsibilities of the head coach is a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week job, McFadden said, and he would like to spend more time following their careers. His youngest son, Jack, will graduate this year and attend the Air Force Academy and both of his daughters plan to teach in China next year.
"I want to be there for them if I need to," he said.
McFadden has coached the Bearcat girls for the past 13 years, but his career as a track coach spans three decades. He was an assistant coach for the boys for 18 years and also coached at Lincoln Southeast before coming to Kearney. He has been a part of 17 state track championships and led the KHS girls to the 2016 state title as well as two runner-up finishes.
"I’ve loved it. I’ve had the greatest time," he said. "I’ve had awesome assistant coaches to work with. Parents have been tremendous. And the athletes have been second-to-none."
Polacek was an all-class state champion in the pole vault at KHS in 2007 and a two-time collegiate All-American and six-time all-conference vaulter for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. He also helped the Husker track team as a volunteer coach during the 2012-2013 season.
Polacek has coached several state qualifiers as an assistant track coach in Columbus and Kearney High.
"It’s an honor and fulfillment of a dream to become the head girls track coach at Kearney High," Polacek said in the release from KHS. "I’m fortunate to be surrounded by an incredible staff of dedicated coaches who are committed to empowering our student-athletes. I look forward to the challenge of keeping our outstanding track tradition alive while striving to be a perennial championship contender."
"Nate is passionate about track and field," McFadden said.