Born: September 16, 1949 (Lyons, KS)
Graduated: Lyons H.S., 1967 / Southwestern College, 1971
Jim Helmer made a name for himself as one of the best coaches, if not the best coach, in NAIA cross country and track and field by creating a rich tradition and valuing sportsmanship and building relationships.
In his 39-year tenure as Southwestern College’s head cross country and track & field coach, Helmer led his runners to 31-straight men’s Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference (KCAC) cross country championships, from 1980-2010. The men’s track & field team followed the trend, winning 29 consecutive cross country crowns from 1983 to 2011.
Helmer guided seven runners onto NAIA National Championships in both men’s cross country and track and field. Additionally, 81 athletes have earned NAIA All-American status an impressive 188 times under the Helmer’s direction.
It is clear that Helmer’s methods produce winners on the track, but his lead-by-example attitude and fair-play mindset helped his athletes to become better people too.
Helmer was praised by fellow coaches for his sportsmanship and fairness in competition, even denying the opportunity to host a 2005 regional cross country meet because he thought it would be unfair to host three meets on his home course.
His dedication and success in the sport led him to numerous Coach of the Year awards, including KCAC Cross Country Coach of the Year 26 times, KCAC Men’s Track and Field Coach of the Year from 1983 until 2007, and several NAIA District and Region Coach of the Year honors.
Even following his retirement, Helmer has laid the groundwork for Southwestern cross country and track & field to continue seeing success for the years to come.
The success, awards, championships and trophies aren’t what he values most, however.
"I have no regrets about the last 35 years," Helmer told Southwestern Athletics. "Winning all those championships was fun, but the opportunity to work with hundreds and maybe thousands of kids and their families has been even more rewarding. I've been very, very fortunate."
Helmer’s awards, victories and championships speak wonders of his coaching ability, but his high character is what will be remembered forever by all those who have ever been coached by him or coached against him throughout his career.