CHL Profile - Coach Sue Savage


Our second installment of the summer in CHL Profile will have some similarities to the first profile.  Coach Sue Savage is the Indian Hill Track & Field and Cross Country coach.  She, of course, was  Anna Podojil’s track & field coach.

Coach Savage was born and raised in Pittsburgh.
  She received an athletic scholarship to West Virginia University for track & field in 1978.  She was the first woman to receive an athletic scholarship to WVU for track & field.  She received her BS degree in Chemistry from WVU and went on to complete her Master’s in Educational Administration from Xavier in 1995.  She has been married to her husband Russ for 32 years and they have two children.  Megan is married to Tom Knox and they live in Columbus, Ohio.  Jake resides in Brooklyn, New York. Sue’s coaching career started at a small school in Maryland where she coached track & field.  She coached track & basketball at Forest Park (1987-1991).  That is where she did her student teaching (1988).  She started coaching track & field and cross country at Indian Hill in 1991.  Her teaching career at Indian Hill began in 1995.  Coach Savage teaches Advanced Chemistry to sophomores & Advanced Placement Chemistry to juniors and seniors. 
Sue credits her dad, Rich Wingertsahn, as the reason she competed in track & field.  She said her dad was a very supportive parent. “Whenever I was heading off to compete, he would always say ‘Run the pants off them, kid’.  And I did!”  Her husband Russ was the first person she coached in 1984 (more on that in the Q&A).  “He has always been extremely supportive of my coaching.”

Coach Savage has numerous awards in coaching & teaching:
Influential Teacher Recognition-Massachusetts Institute of Technology – 2019
University of Chicago Outstanding Educator Award – 2018
Cincinnati Division of American Chemical Society Chemistry Teacher of the Year – 2018
American Chemical Society Nomination Chemistry Teacher of the Year – 2016,2017
Honorary Tomahawk Award Winner for Indian Hill High School – 2014
Carrick High School (Pittsburgh) Athletic Hall of Fame Inductee – 2000.2001
Cross Country League Track & Field Coach of the Year – 1989
CHL Boys Cross Country Coach of the Year – 1996, 2015, 2016
CHL Girls Cross Country Coach of the Year – 1993, 2009,2011,2012, 2013,2014
CHL Boys Track & Field Coach of the Year – 2018,2019
CHL Girls Track & Field Coach of the Year – 2000, 2011,2017, 2018,2019
Cincinnati Enquirer Girls Cross Country & Track Coach of the Year – 2007,2009,2012,2018, 2019 Cincinnati Enquirer Coach of the Year- 2007,2009,201,2012,2016,2017
Southwestern Ohio Track & Cross Country Coaches Association Coach of the Year – 1996, 2007,2016,2017,2018,2019
Ohio Association of Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Boys Track & Field Coach of the Year – 2017

Here are some questions for Coach Savage:

SID - You ran track & field in high school & college.
  Was it always a goal to get into coaching?
Coach - When I was in college, I had a summer job as a camp counselor where I coached softball. At the time, it wasn’t on my radar to get involved in coaching track & field. After college, I was working as an analytical chemist for the department of defense on Aberdeen Proving Grounds outside of Baltimore, Maryland. I met my husband, Russ, running each day at lunch time. He asked me to help him train to break 40 minutes in a 10K. Thus, my coaching career began.

SID - What were the circumstances around being hired for your first coaching job?

Coach - Russ saw an ad in the local Hartford County, Maryland, paper for a boys’ head track & field coach at a small Catholic high school, John Carroll. He said, you should look into this position. I interviewed, and got the job. I would go into work at 6:00 AM so I could get to practice by 3:30. It was the perfect first coaching job. I was surrounded by people who believed, at 24 years old, I had the right stuff to become a good coach.

SID - You started coaching at Indian Hill before you taught there.
  Was that a challenge not being in the classroom?
Coach - My first three coaching job, John Carroll, Forest Park and Indian Hill, I wasn’t in the building. It is difficult to recruit students for the programs when you are not in the halls of the building every day. Some of my first athletes at Indian Hill, like Dan Spinnenweber, Amy Terry, and Sarah Busken, helped with getting students to participate. 

SID - You are the head coach for both cross country and track & field.
  What are the positives of coaching both and does it help in recruiting for both?
Coach - I love coaching both sports. They both involve running, but are a completely different experience for athletes and coaches. Coaching both sports help with getting and keeping athletes in the programs. For example, during the fall of his freshman year, Ben Bayless played soccer at Indian Hill. During the spring, he decided to run track, and began to experience some success. As he formed relationships with other athletes and the coaching staff, it wasn’t difficult to convince him to run cross country where he had a very successful high school career.

SID - Year in and year out, Indian Hill numbers in track & field and cross country are more often the largest of any league school.
  Is this because, “winning breeds winning”, intensive recruiting from the coaching staff, a combination of both, or something else?
Coach - Success does put the programs into the limelight, and potentially plants an idea of participating into other students’ minds. Everyone on my coaching staff is in the building, and we are constantly inviting students to join our programs. However, if you coach for an extended time in the same program, you will have some really good years, and some not so good. The goal is to stay consistent with your coaching philosophy. I have always coached each and every athlete to become his or her very best whether she is the fastest 400M runner in the state or the slowest. Every athletes deserves to feel valued and a part of the program. Every athlete needs to hear me yell, “Moooooooove!” just for him or her.

SID - You are the head coach of both boys and girls for each sport.
  What are the pluses and minuses of being the head coach of both?
Coach - I truly enjoy coaching both boys and girls. There are differences in how I coach the boys verses the girls. I also think the boys and girls work really well together. Everyone cheers on each other. We are one TEAM! Also, because we run the programs together there is better coaching. We have 4 track and field coaches to cover all the events, and athletes receive the expertise they deserve. The minuses are collecting uniforms and paperwork. I have been coaching for so long, I have efficient systems in place, but sometimes a few uniform items slip through the cracks.

SID - Your boys were league champs this year, but last year they won the first boys’ track & field title for Indian Hill since 1989.
  You had a pretty good group coming back from that team.  Did this add to the confidence of the team that they could go back to back?
Coach - Actually, we lost a lot of talent when the 2018 class graduated. We just took the attitude to fill those spots, and the boys stepped up to the challenge. Having the boys go back to back CHL and District Champions has been awesome!

SID - Your girls came into this season with back to back track & field league championships.
  Last year you won without Anna Podojil.  With almost all of your scorers coming back, including a healthy Anna, you had to feel good about your girls coming into this season.
Coach - So I am asked this question often, and I can honestly say I wasn’t really thinking about the team. I coach one athlete at a time, one event at a time. I just wanted to get Anna back physically and mentally, keep everyone healthy, and then see what the girls could do. I did schedule several really competitive meets to make sure athletes were begin challenged, and ready for the CHL meet and beyond.

SID - Your regular season schedule had some tough competition, including meets in West Virginia & Pittsburgh.
  Looking back, did that help in your post season?
Coach - Absolutely, both meets had incredible competition. An athlete has to know what it feels like to not be winning an event, and learn how to hand it. The experiences helped our athletes to build a level of confidence necessary to succeed at a high level.
 Our program was invited to the Wheeling Park Invitational, and I was honored. The meet featured four teams that went onto win their state championships. The Baldwin Invitational, Pittsburgh, featured 69 schools with the top talent from the greater western Pennsylvania area.

SID - Outside of the state meet, what were some highlights for you from this past season.

Coach - In 1976, I was a sophomore at Carrick High School in Pittsburgh. That year, the 3
rd Annual Baldwin Invitational was the very first time I competed against other girls, and I did well. I always talked about taking my teams to the Baldwin meet, to go home. To have had the opportunity to share a bit on my story with my athletes, and then have them compete successfully, was just an incredible experience! I felt so proud. We really became a family at that meet! I will always be grateful for that experience. Plus, on Saturday, we went to Kennywood Amusement park, and conquered the rollercoasters together.

SID - You had athletes in nine events qualify for the state meet.
  Is that the most events for an Indian Hill track & field team at state?
Coach - If you count Alex Galbraith in the 800M, Ben Bayless in the 3200M, and the boys 3200M relay, the program competed in 12 events at the OHSAA Track & Field Championship. Yes, it was the most events for Indian Hill. It was so much fun!

SID - Saturday was the finals day at state.
  Take us through that day.
Coach - One athlete at a time, one event at a time. My thoughts are always for athletes to have a good experience, run a personal record and make the podium. On Friday night, our 3200M relay of Meghan O’Brien, Claudia Hollander, Amy Prugh and Elizabeth Whaley finished 6
th with a new school record, and they made the podium. It was a great start to the meet. Saturday, Anna Podojil ran the 100M finals to finish 6th, and make the podium. Then, freshman, Elizabeth Whaley competed like an upperclassman in the 1600M. Elizabeth broke the school record to finish 4th and make the podium. Anna was up in the 400M. I knew this was her best chance to become a state champion again. She broke the school record, and finished 1st. That brought tears to my eyes because she had truly recovered from her knee injury.  Ellie Podojil was up next in the 300m hurdles. Ellie broke the school record, finished 3rd and made the podium. Elizabeth Whaley stepped onto the track to do the really tough double of running the 800M after making the podium in the 1600M. Elizabeth ran an inspiring race to finish 10th. Alex Galbraith followed Elizabeth in the 800M. Alex ran a personal record to finish 7th and make the podium. Anna was up again. This time in the 200M. In 2017, she was the state champion in this event. I just wanted her to make the podium. She finished 3rd. I knew we were scoring points, but I never looked. My assistant coaches, Coach Siebenaller and Coach Jackson, knew what was happening, but they know not to tell me. While Ben Bayless was competing in the 3200M, the coaches were discussing the team scores. Both looked really happy, but I was busy getting Ben’s splits. Ben finished 5th to return to the podium. He was 7th in the 3200M in 2017.  Then, the girls were up in the 4x400M relay. During the indoor season, Ellie Podojil. Meghan O’Brien, Louisa Klaserner and Anna Podojil surprised me at the state meet by upsetting Akron Buchtel to become state champions! I was nervous for the girls, and concerned because Elizabeth Whaley had run the 1600M and 800M. Ellie started for us, and she ran the race of her life passing the baton to Meghan in first place and running the 400M in :57.00. Meghan built on our lead by running a :57.00, and passed the baton to Elizabeth who broke the 1:00 in the 400, :59.00, for the first time. Elizabeth passed the baton to Anna who ran a comfortable :55.00 to cross the finish line first. I looked at my stop watch, and I just couldn’t believe their time. Then, it flashed on the score board. New school record, state champions and a new OHSAA division II record. Just amazing!!!! The girls set 5 new school records at the state meet!

SID - Anna said in her story that the girls were not aware that they had clinched the state title going into the 4 x 4.
  As coaches, when did you know that you had clinched the title?
Coach - I knew, officially, after Anna crossed the finish line in the 4 x 400M relay. Coach Siebenaller turned to me and asked, “Do you want to know now?” I said yes, and he said “The girls are State Champions scoring 43 points which is 15 points better than second place.” That was a thick layer of icing on the cake!

SID - I think lost in the excitement of the girls’ run for the state title was senior Ben Bayless closing out his great high school running career with a 5
th place podium finish in the 3200 Run.  What are your thoughts on Ben and the other boys who qualified for state?
Coach - We are a program and the girls were cheering on Ben and Alex. In the video of the girls 1600M relay, you can see Ben cheering on Anna into the finish. Ben is an extremely talented young man who will be competing for the University of Dayton. Ben has been instrumental in helping me raise the expectation of athletes in the Track & Cross country programs at Indian Hill. Alex Galbraith came into his own this track season. It was outstanding to watch him kick into the finish to move from 11
th to 7th and earn a state medal. The boys 3200M relay of Ben, Alex, Nolan Heffernan and Tommy Tauer also competed at the state meet and finished 14th. I am grateful for their dedication.

SID - Indian Hill track & field has set team and individual records that might stand for a long time.
  How do you see the program going forward?
Coach - I will continue to coach as I always have, one athlete at a time, one event at a time. I will work to help each and every athlete to become the very best runner, thrower, jumper, hurdler and person he or she is meant to be. I will always be grateful for the opportunities to share my passions. So, the program may not ever experience the success, on the big stage, as this past season, but it will continue to be a successful program.

We congratulate Coach Savage on a great season and wish her luck in future seasons.