Finch’s Swan Song

Harrison Epstein photo
Al Finch was the head coach of the track team at Glenrock High School for 31 years and the head coach of cross country for 33 years. Finch retired after the 2018-2019 school year.

By: 
Harrison Epstein harrison@glenrockind.com

Every morning, precisely at 4 a.m., Al Finch sits on his backyard porch. He and Tammy’s  three rescue dogs make sure he is awake. One day, a while back, he gave them a treat that early in the morning. Now, it’s part and parcel of his – and the dogs’ – daily routine.
He basks in the morning light through the shade of his trees, a cup of coffee sits on the table beside him, a newspaper at the ready. Finch opens a notebook. Whenever he’s at home, the former Glenrock coach takes out two pieces of paper, each addressed to one of his twin sons, Benjamin and Johnathon.  Al writes them each a few lines about his day and what he’s been up to.
“It’s just a way to let them know I’m thinking about them every day, which I do.”
Al is now 62 years old and feels as good as he did in his 20s, minus the aches and pains. This is his new normal. Having retired from his position as an assistant track & field coach with the middle school last year, he ended a coaching career that spanned four decades and included more accolades and honors than even he can remember.
Al grew up in South Dakota before attending Black Hills State University, back when it was still Black Hills State College, where he ran cross country and track. He came to Glenrock right after graduation and started coaching. He moved onto the high school as a teacher in the late 1980s to teach math.
He coached and taught until 2016 when his sons graduated from Glenrock High School, where they were both on the track & field team. Benjamin is a student now at Black Hills State University studying to be a teacher and a coach, following in his dad’s footsteps.
Johnathon is attending Michigan State University as a recipient of the Starr Scholarship and is looking into a host of different career paths. Finishing his time as the head coach of the track and cross country teams after 31 and 33 years, respectively, in 2016, Al moved on to be an assistant coach for the track team at the middle school.
He felt it would be a relaxing way to phase himself out of coaching instead of an abrupt stop. As an assistant, he got to just do the actual coaching with the kids and none of the extra duties that come with being in charge. In June, Al was among the coaches honored at the Wyoming Coaches Association Hall of Fame banquet for 40 years of coaching.
He was inducted into the Wyoming Coaches Hall of Fame in 2004. According to Al, he is also going to be inducted into the Yellowjacket Hall of Fame at BHSU this fall, though the school couldn’t confirm that yet. He also was named the Coach of the Year for cross country in Wyoming four times and Boys Track Coach of the Year once.
He isn’t sure how many times he was named the Absaraka Conference Coach of the Year, but it was at least a dozen. Not only did he coach cross country for decades at Glenrock, he started the program in 1983 with just 10 runners (nine boys and one girl).
Two years later, his 33-student team took home the boys state 3A championship. That was the first of three state championships he won with the boys teams, along with one runner-up spot and three third-place finishes. He also coached the girls team to 11 third-place finishes.
As the coach of the boys track & field team, he won two state championships, was the state runner-up once, won five regional championships and three regional runner-ups and took third place seven times. Under his tutelage, the girls were state runner-up twice and brought home eight regional championships, one regional runner-up and five third place finishes.
He handed over the cross country team to Chris Gray, the former Glenrock High School principal,  and track & field to the football head coach, Ryan Collier.
“He sets the bar pretty high, and they’re big shoes to fill,“ Gray admitted.
While those two were his main sports as a coach,Al worked to coach the indoor track team during the winters and was a basketball referee for 25 years. Away from the track, he sat on the Wyoming High School Coaches Association Board of Directors for nine years after being the first board’s first cross country representative.
Al said that one of his few regrets in coaching was not bringing in a state title with any of the girls teams. As both a parent and coach, Al was responsible for shaping these kids and helping them grow up. He tried to always be supportive of his runners and give them a strong life foundation.
“That person is trying to do their best all the time and that’s what I tried to instill, just do your best,” Al said. “People don’t try to make mistakes, they don’t try to lose. Every time they ran it was ‘good job’ no matter what.”
Even if the kids themselves didn’t accept that they did a good job, he knew the effort that each and every one of them put in and was proud of them. Along with all the memories he has of the hundreds of kids he coached, his sons hold a special place in his memories.
“Not even necessarily meets or anything or placing, being able to spend time with them at practice and watching them work hard . . .” Al let his words trail off before correcting himself – that there were plenty of great moments that  “we had.”
His time as a leader of young runners in Glenrock is over, but that’s not an issue for Al. He now has free time on his hands, more free time than he’s ever had. On any given day he might spend time on his four-wheeler or out on the golf course. He might mow his lawn, cut wood in the backyard or go camping in the Big Horns. The only things he’s yet to do are the tasks he set out to do years ago—like cleaning the garage.
His legacy is strong between the Halls of Fame, his place on the board of the Glenrock Recreation Center and his name on the GHS track. Al Finch was a steady force at Glenrock, and still is, but now he gets to sit back on his porch at 4 a.m., drink his coffee, read his newspaper, relax in the morning sun rise and write his letters to his sons.

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