By Lea Shores
Staff reporter

Everyone at Southwestern leaves behind some sort of legacy. For Jim Helmer, head cross country and men’s track coach, the legacy has spanned more than 33 years.

Helmer, originally from Lyons, came to the college as a student and ran cross country and track.  Like many Builders, he met his wife here, and stayed in Winfield upon graduation to start a family.

“By chance, my first job was at Winfield High School,” said Helmer.

Helmer spent several years at the high school before another offer came up. “I got the opportunity to get back to my alma mater,” he said. “I ran here. This was my school.”

In 33 years, Helmer has won 31 consecutive men’s cross country conference championships, coached more than 75 All-Americans, and taken countless runners to nationals.

Some might wonder why a coach with such capabilities stayed at a small, private college. Helmer said for awhile, he actively pursued several other National Collegiate Athletic Associate positions. “It’s not that I was dissatisfied, just looking at my options,” said Helmer.  “I’m content to be here. I might have had to give up an awful lot to move.”

Amy Pierson, nursing senior, has run under Helmer for four years. “He’s the best coach I’ve ever had,” said Pierson. “I think that’s the reason why a lot of people come here.”

For Helmer, being a successful coach is more than winning. “The most important part is giving young people the opportunity to practice doing what they have to do to be successful and be a contributor,” he said.

Pierson said, “He talks to us about how running isn’t everything. Work hard at whatever you want to do and it will pay off.”

Helmer said, “Not everyone is going to buy into it, but I keep hearing from alumni. They tell me how special and important cross country and track was. That means way more than championships.”

Not one to mince words, Helmer takes a straightforward approach when dealing with students.

Pierson said, “He says it the way it is. He’s caring but he’s honest and he knows what he’s doing. He really helps you build character.”

Coaching hasn’t left much time for Helmer to do many other things. He is involved at Grace United Methodist Church and spends as much time a she can with his family, including two children in Winfield and grandchildren in Houston.

He said, “Coaching pretty much consumes me.”

Lea Shores is a senior majoring in English. You may e-mail her at

Edited by Paige Carswell.