By Scott Swanson
Of The New Era 

Cross-country coach has seen lot of road en route to SH


August 23, 2016

DAN BIXLER has been named head coach of the Sweet Home cross-country program.

For Dan Bixler, the road to Sweet Home has included a lot of twists and turns and stops at six schools, which has given him the opportunity to work with many coaches and runners before taking the reins of Sweet Home’s cross-country program.

Bixler, 43, takes the program over after two years under Andrew “Keebler” Allen following the retirement of longtime coach Billy Snow.

Bixler will teach chemistry and physical science at the high school.

Born and raised in Tulare in California’s San Joaquin Valley, where he ran cross-country and track for Tulare Union High School, Bixler went to Westmont College, near Santa Barbara. He competed in cross-country and track there for a year, but “Westmont had very good teams for such a small school and I had chemistry and physics labs in the afternoons. There were always conflicts.”

He initially considered becoming an engineer, but he ended up majoring in physics.

“I decided, near the end, to go into teaching,” he said. “I had an engineering internship that I didn’t enjoy.”

He started his teaching career in the late 1999s at a small Catholic school in Santa Barbara, then moved to Santa Ynez High School, north of Santa Barbara, where he spent seven years, his longest stint at any one school, he said. He coached cross-country and track at Santa Ynez on California’s Central Coast, which consistently produces quality runners.

He met his wife Julie while working at Santa Ynez, in a community of about 15,000 people, including the neighboring towns of Solvang and Buellton – all of which were served by Santa Ynez High School.

“We knew lots of people in common but we met through e-harmony,” he said. “She lived right around the corner in a small town of 5,000. I lived in Solvang.”

Julie was from Corvallis, so in 2007 they moved north to Yreka so they could be a little closer to her family.

At Yreka he took over the cross-country team for longtime Coach Pam Borg, who was dealing with health issues, he said. In 2007 he worked with a group of freshman boys who didn’t take long to turn into an elite team. In 2011 they won the CIF Division-IV state championship.

During his second year, Borg returned and they worked together as co-head coaches, he said.

But then the recession hit and Bixler’s teaching job was eliminated.

“Pam and I fed off each other really well,” Bixler said. “She is hyper-organized and I’m a motivator.”

Yreka seemed like a great place to settle down, he said, but budget cuts prevailed and Bixler ‘s position was cut after a few years.

“We thought we’d found it in Yreka and Weed, we were happy there, but other things happen,” he said.

He taught at Liberty High School near Fresno, then at Upper Lake, a school of “like 50 students” outside of Ukiah, Calif. before moving to Summerville, a community of just over 100 in northeastern Oregon, then to McNary High School in Salem, where he taught science since 2012.

The Bixlers live in the Millersburg area now with their two daughters, ages 8 and 5.

Bixler said he enjoys the outdoors, particularly cycling, which he got into while still a runner.

“I’ve been biking since high school,” he said.

His arrival at Sweet Home last week was delayed slightly by a 400-some-mile trek he had committed to in the Wallowa Mountains.

“Normally, I do a 400- to 500-mile bike ride every year,” he said. “I used to take it a lot more seriously. When I was single and coaching, pretty much all I ever did was coach and ride and run. One year I rode 10,000 miles and ran 2,000. That was my best year.”

These days, he said, his annual mileage has dropped to about 700 to 800 a year.

“I should ride a lot more,” he said. “I will, now that I’m coaching cross-country again.”

He finds riding a good way to monitor his runners’ progress and he just enjoys it, he said.

“For me, the bike gets me from one place to another. I enjoy the ride. One thing I love about cycle touring, is I love to go see places, and cycling is fast enough to get there but slow enough to see things.”

Since his first chance to meet the cross-country runners was last week, Bixler said he expects it to be a “learning experience, to learn the kids, the courses and the schools.

“The big goal is for me to learn. The team, I just want them to improve and have fun. If good things happen because of that, great.”

He said it will also be about goal-setting.

“I set some goals for every meet, no matter what it is,” he said. “Incentives, varsity letters, end-of-the-year awards, stuff like that.

“You start making little goals and big goals will come into focus.”


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