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Cross Country Coach
Pierre Moran Middle School
SouthBendTribune.com: Will Penn buy into Sellers' mentality?
A successful and sometimes controversial cross country coach in the area during the 1970s, Marshall Sellers is back coaching in Michiana this season after accepting a position at Penn High School. Tribune Photo/SANTIAGO FLORESBRISTOL -- Getting rocks to run is what Marshall Sellers has mastered over the last 38 years.Getting a few Kingsmen to run over the next few months should be a piece of cake.Sellers, 59, is a very complicated guy with a very simple approach to life."I'm not a motivator," Sellers said.And that just scratches the surface on who Marshall Sellers really is.For the record, he's the new cross country coach at Penn High School.He grew up on a dairy farm in Michigan, just north of the Indiana state line, but was bussed to Fremont High School in Indiana because the Coldwater schools thought it was closer and cheaper.He was the quarterback of a 13-man football team and also played basketball, baseball and ran track.He graduated from Western Michigan in three years with a teaching degree and got his masters from Indiana."I wanted to be a basketball coach at a small school in Indiana," Sellers said of his early plans."I knew in the sixth grade what I wanted to be."Instead, Sellers became a cross country coach when, while a junior high teacher and coach with the Elkhart Community Schools, he was given the varsity job after the 1970 season had already started.It was a program with plenty of promise, finishing fifth in the state that first season.Elkhart High School closed and Central opened in '72, when Sellers took the Blue Blazers to another fifth-place finish -- a season that set up a state title run in 1973."I just didn't want to be a failure," Sellers said."The way society was, kids worked harder then than they do today.Today's kids are as good or better than they were back then, but they're not as physically active.They don't come with the work ethic they had back then."The greatest compliment from his coaching tenure in Elkhart, which for cross country lasted until 1986, came from John Knapp, an administrator at the junior high where Sellers taught."John said, 'Marshall, you're the only guy who could get a rock to run,'" Sellers said.Work is the fabric of who Sellers is.So is accountability.So are CDs -- consecutive days of excellence, as he calls them."Marshall was always on the lookout for that 'X factor' kid," said Paul Karasch, who ran for Sellers from 1971-73 and is a cross country coach at a New England prep school now."Marshall was always on the lookout for that 'X factor' kid," said Paul Karasch, who ran for Sellers from 1971-73 and is a cross country coach at a New England prep school now.Sellers is controversial.He's rubbed administrators and fellow coaches the wrong way regularly over the years.Training methods have been questioned.Sellers recalled the day in the early '80s when the Blazers had their 86-straight dual-meet winning streak snapped at Penn, on a course that was near the high school."We were injured and sick, but everyone was feeling sorry for themselves," Sellers said."I wasn't going to put up with any of that, so we had a 10-mile workout -- right there on Penn's course.After a while, (former Penn football coach) Chris Geesman stopped his team's practice and all their players lined the course to watch. (Present Penn football coach) Cory Yeoman was a player then.He still remembers that."Over the years, Sellers has learned.He says he's mellowed.He's coming off a three-year professional leave in which he traveled the country enhancing the stature of his Paavo Running Camps and teacher workshops.He's back teaching health at Pierre Moran Middle School and saw the Penn program as a great fit."Penn stands for a great athletic tradition, which impresses me," Sellers said.Kids from various economic backgrounds -- farmers, blue collar and white collar -- will make up his roster."Those 'X-factor' kids don't have a 'collar,'" he said.