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The Coach, The Motivator, The Friend

Bussan’s tenure at Webster City about so much more than wins and titles

December 4, 2014
Troy Banning (tba) ,

WEBSTER CITY - Jana Peterson was already a cross country state champion and the girl to beat in all of the distance races when she make the journey to Des Moines for the 1995 state track and field meet.

Could she win the 800 meters? You bet. How about the 1,500? Of course. And the 3,000? The answer was obvious.

That's how talented Peterson was, and yet now - looking back on the experience 19 years later - she's not afraid to admit there were twinges of doubt. She was working with a new Webster City girls' track coach and upsets happen every day.

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Tony Bussan

And then, at the exact right moment and in the exact right context, she was given a letter by Tony Bussan - the Lynx cross country and boys' track coach - and whatever doubts had bubbled to the surface faded away

Now going by her married name Jana Peterson-Besse, the former Lynx standout seized the gold in all three races. She did it on her own, but she says there's no doubt Bussan's words helped her believe.

"It was one of the most inspirational things," Peterson-Besse, who now lives outside of Portland, Oregon, and is a professor at Pacific University, said. "It broke down my races ... the fact that he had that absolute confidence in me and would take that time even though I wasn't running for him at the time and unbelievable. He put so much caring into every interaction he had with athletes and it was a really cool thing."

Tony Bussan has coached girls' and boys' cross country at Webster City for 26 years, and he's also served as the head boys' track coach for 24 years. The list of accolades is hefty; a total of 22 North Central Conference cross country championships and 11 runner-up finishes, a truck load of coaching honors and, oh by the way, 10 state titles for individual runners and relays.

But talk to those that have run for Bussan, or coached alongside him, or now happily call him a friend, and it's quickly apparent that the things that make his resume glow are secondary.

It's his words, his actions, his aura that make him not only one of the best coaches in the state, but one of its better human beings.

"The most important thing he did and something I try to do every day is let the athletes know I care about them more as people than runners," Heath Moenck, one of the best cross country runners in WCHS history and now the head cross country coach at Simpson College in Indianola, said. "Bussan cared more about me and my personal being than just my running and he was interested in all aspects of my life. I didn't really understand how fortunate I was at the time, but every year I'm away from the (Lynx) program I realize how fortunate I was."

Talk to former athlete after former athlete and the messages and memories are the same.State champions like Kyle Kepler - twice a 3,200-meter winner at state track in the mid 1990s - don't receive any more attention or any more caring than those that finish at the back of the junior varsity races.

"Nobody on my teams knew who the best runner was or the 60th kid was and that's his greatest strength," Kepler, who now oversees the women's cross country and track and field programs at the University of Utah, said. "He cares about everybody the same, whether your (personal record) is 16 minutes or 22 minutes.

"He just has that knack and that ability to understand everybody on his team at the same time. He wasn't the No. 1 runner on his high school team (at Marshalltown), but he was on a state championship team. So he understands the dynamics from both ends."! !As a motivator, Bussan is second to none.

"He's just really energetic and as a runner he was a fun coach to have and he got you excited," Chad Hisler, once an athlete for Bussan who is now his assistant boys' track coach, said. "He finds kids and works with them and doesn't give up on them. He helps kids that aren't even in his program whether it's tutoring or just meeting them to do swim workouts."

As a coach, Bussan is second to none.

"He wants to make sure all of the details are covered and he doesn't want there to be any mistakes," Kepler said. "It's hard not to enjoy that, quite honestly.

"Everything I've ever gotten in running comes through him. All the doors that opened up start right there at Webster City High School and Tony Bussan."

And as a friend, ask those that are still in contact with him and they'll tell you ... Bussan is second to none.

"He was always a person that I could go to as a mentor and confidant just in my life and I would say that continues on today," Peterson-Besse said. "He's the coach that's invited to your wedding, he's the coach that shows up to your wedding and you love celebrating life with him as well.

"He cared about us then and he cares about us still."

Bussan will be the first to tell you that all of the extra hours stalking cross country courses and yelling encouragement with a stop watch attached to his palm wouldn't have been possible without the help, support and guidance from one person in particular.

It's true: Bussan doesn't forget any of the details.

"There has been one career long co-head coach and partner in directing the Webster City cross country and boys' track programs. She has supported my work in the classroom and impacted many kids' lives," Bussan said. "Jill Bussan has been there for me, our family and for the students and athletes we have been privileged to work with since coming to Webster City in 1983. Without her support, love and guidance none of this would happened."

It's no secret that the sun has started to set on Bussan's coaching career. Still in the midst of the cross country season, he's asked repeatedly what the future entails. Will this be his last season at the helm? Will next spring be his track swan song?

Never one to duck questions or speak his mind, Bussan says he's unsure what the future looks like. Some days he thinks he's ready to hang up the whistle and clipboard, while others he feels like he has the energy to continue.

But whether the final chapter of his story is told this school year, or the next, or even the next after that, eventually it will become reality. And Webster City will lose perhaps its most respected coach.

"The impact on the students' lives that he makes every day, there's no value you can put on it," Moenck said. "I'm sure whoever (WCHS) hires will be a great candidate, but it would be hard to fill (Bussan's) shoes. I know I wouldn't want to."

Or as Peterson-Besse summed it up so succinctly: "He's a special guy."

Yes, he really is.



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