[Editor’s note: The idea behind “Alphabet Stories” is to write one noteworthy athletics-related story about each OSAA-member school. We started with Adrian HS on Sept.18. Today’s story, almost seven months later, is about Dallas High School. Yes, we’re finally into the D’s after 19 weeks writing about schools that start with the letter C! The goal is to write two per week all the way to Yoncalla! While we will be relying upon athletic directors to furnish story ideas, anyone may offer suggestions by emailing [email protected]]
When Monique Lankheet arrived at Dallas HS in 1996 to be a teacher, she was fresh out of Western Oregon University with Master’s degree in hand.
Her focus was on teaching, but the head coaching position on the cross country team intrigued her. It paid a stipend and Lankheet had a background in running. She’d been running since she was a teenager, including for Western.
“Nobody else wanted it so they let me take it,” she said. “They let me muddle along and learn as I went. I felt humbled that they had trust and faith in me to get it right one day.”
Lankheet, 66, is retiring from teaching at the end of the school year. She intends to keep coaching, however. She just can’t tear herself away from her athletes.
“Right now I still enjoy it,” she said. “It’s not something I want to leave. I love these kids. I want to make sure I’m still doing right by them. When it’s time, I’ll know.”
Lankheet came to teaching and coaching later in life than most. After high school, she studied in college for two years in the Midwest, but took a 19-year pause to get married and raise three children.
Teaching, however, was always in the plan. When she returned to school at Western, to major in Physical Education with a minor in Health, Lankheet was in her late 30s.
She’d never been part of a cross country team – her high school didn’t offer sports for girls – but was a serious runner with experience in 5Ks, 10Ks and marathons. The athletic director at WOU, when he learned her race times, encouraged her to go out for the team. She made the team and contributed as a middle-of-the-pack runner. Lankheet used her experience to think about how to be a good coach herself if she ever got the opportunity.
More than 25 years later, Lankheet is beloved in the classroom and on the course.
“She is supportive, dedicated, and she truly cares about the wellbeing and success of both her students and athletes,” said AnneMarie Johnson, one of her charges. “I am so incredibly blessed to have had her as a teacher, and as my cross country coach.”
Dallas AD Timothy Larson was asked what made Lankheet special as a teacher and as a coach.
“The answer to both questions is the same,” he said. “Monique truly cares about all of her students/athletes. She creates and encourages a caring environment where everyone is welcome. They are pushed to do their best with plenty of support. Monique goes the extra mile to make sure all of her students/athletes are cared about and for.”
By 2017, Lankheet had been coaching at Dallas for more than 20 years, but had never taken a team to State. She achieved that goal with the boys’ team later that fall and for the ensuing two years as well.
“It was so fun to have teams competing at that level,” said Lankheet, “but I thought State was going to be more. I learned that my fun comes from taking kids to another level from what they thought they could do. When I have a kid tell me that he broke a personal record, that’s more rewarding for me.”
Lankheet still runs 30 miles a week herself. She started running 50 years ago, she said, “for freedom and to get away from it all.” She uses cross country not only to help kids stay fit and be part of belonging to a team, but also to teach that running can help reduce life’s stresses. Her interest lies in providing experiences that can last a lifetime.
“Hard work, dedication, supporting your teammates…these are things that you have to do as runners, as business people and as family members,” she told another journalist a few years ago.
The clock is running out on Lankheet’s teaching career. She plans to use her time post-retirement to join a rowing club, be an active grandmother to her sports-minded grandbabies and travel, starting first by hiking the Camino de Santiago in Europe. Leaving the profession that has long been Lankheet’s passion frees up her time to do all those other things “on her list” while she feels up to it.
But she can’t give up coaching.
“I think I’m going to remain at Dallas,” she said. “I know other coaches who have coached successfully after retiring as teachers. The AD said I could stay as long as I wanted. I’m pretty comfortable with how I run the program.”
Lankheet admits that, while the recent successes of her boys teams have been fun, there remains one more goal: she has yet to take a girls team to State.
“There’s still a carrot out there,” Lankheet said.
True, but one missing carrot means nothing given what Lankheet has done over the course of her coaching career.
She has accomplished a bunch!