GAYVILLE — For more than 25 years, Gayville-Volin coach Larry Buffington has been helping athletes hone their skills at different South Dakota schools.
Now he's being honored for his work with an induction into the Dakota Wesleyan University's Athletic Hall of Fame in Mitchell.
Buffington and six others will be inducted into the hall of fame Saturday, April 24, at the Sherman Center on DWU campus.
"I'm very honored to be inducted," he said. "I firmly believe that with anything in life, if you surround yourself with good people and you're passionate about it, that combination will grow into good things."
Buffington credited much of his success to the strong work ethic instilled in him by his high school coaches Tim Brenno and Ron Budde.
"I'm originally from Gayville-Volin, and I graduated from here in 1976. My junior year we won a state track title," he said. "Then in my senior year we got second, and I won the discus and set the state record in shot put, so I guess track and field has been a passion of mine for a long time."
Now it's his job to instill that passion in others.
After attending Northern State College from 1976-1981, and receiving his master's from Iowa State University in Ames, Buffington began coaching at Dakota Wesleyan.
"The first year I was assistant in track, and took over as head track coach after that. So basically, when my education was over, my first job was Dakota Wesleyan," he said.
During his time at Dakota Wesleyan, Buffington also worked as a football coach.
"When I got to Dakota Wesleyan, (the football team) only won one game the year before, and then my first year there as an assistant, we won one game, and then my next year we only won one game," he said.
After this inauspicious beginning, the team began to improve, building to a 10-0 season in 1992.
"We'd won a couple games the year before, and the year after, so we actually had an 18-game winning streak over a three-year period," Buffington said.
Coupled with this, the men's track and field team won the South Dakota Intercollegiate Conference title two consecutive years.
"For the first time in the school's history, we won the meet (in 1990), and then we repeated and won again in 1991," Buffington said. "In 1991 through 1994 our women finished second to Black Hills State each year. I was both the women's and the men's head coach, and we had a lot of success through those years."
Many different elements go into this kind of athletic success, Buffington said.
"Obviously, you've got to have good athletes," he said. "But we also had a good coaching staff, and more than that, a good support staff as far as an athletic office, administration, athletic trainers and the professors. …
"Admissions is also vital because they're the ones that help you in financial aid. They're the ones that help you get the kids there," he said.
After his time at Dakota Wesleyan, Buffington coached for a year at Mount Marty College. He then moved on to Gayville-Volin, where he has remained for the past 10 years.
"So I literally came back home," he said.
Buffington coaches track and field and cross country at the school, and teaches physical education, as well.
Under his leadership, the Gayville-Volin boys' track team won the Class B state championship last year, the first time it's done so since 1975, when he was on the team as a student.
"That was kind of fun," he said.
Buffington said coaching track and field is something he loves because, having so many different events, "it's a sport where everybody can find something to do."
In addition, the timing system allows for improvement.
"Somebody could run a race and be in last place, but they'll have a time for it," Buffington said. "Then the next time they run that race, they might still be in last place, but if they ran faster than they did the time before, it's something you can say, 'That's amazing. You just did that better than you've ever done in your life.' That's so rewarding, that aspect of it."
Buffington said he's glad to be joining many of his colleagues in the DWU shrine.
"A couple years ago, I started noticing a lot of the athletes I coached and helped recruit were getting inducted into the hall of fame," he said. "I think there's probably about 12 athletes that I'd coached that are already in the hall of fame. …
"The highlight of being inducted is the process of being reunited with a lot of great people, and bringing up a lot of great memories," he said. "The relationships that I've made have really been the highlight of all my coaching."