Longtime JHHS coach Lyle Alley passing torch to his son
For 36 years, Jackson Heights coach Lyle Alley has cultivated a familial atmosphere in the Cobra cross country program.
“We have been a family in Jackson Heights cross country. That’s the way I’ve always approached it,” Alley said. “Even to this day, I’ll see runners who ran for me in 1979 and 1980 and to me they’re still my kids and they know that. That will never change.”
It seems fitting then that the school itself would follow suit and keep it in the family, so to speak, by hiring Alley’s son, Brad, to take over the high school track and cross country head coaching positions that Lyle resigned from at the conclusion of the past school year.
Oddly enough, it’s a transition the two never really discussed all that seriously, but a possibility Brad said got brought up more in passing as the 60-year-old Lyle crept closer to retirement age.
“There wasn’t any real serious conversation, no, because I had a really good experience at Royal Valley,” Brad said. “There was a time when my answer was no, because I was happy where I was at Royal Valley.”
“As my family started to grow, that answer started to change when my priorities started to change and that was really the driving force in my decision,” Brad added.
This past fall, Brad’s oldest child started pre-kindergarten at Jackson Heights and he noted being a part of the school district close to his home and where his kids will grow up, where he grew up, had some pull.
It also seemed to have some impact on the elder Alley. While he shared some information about an opening with his son this past school year, he noted the ball was in his court. Then, when Brad interviewed for a teaching position at Jackson Heights this April, Lyle took that as a sign to follow through with a decision he said he had been contemplating for a year.
Knowing he would be handing the reins over to his son didn’t make it any easier, though, as he noted he got emotional when sharing his decision with JHHS Principal Darren Shupe. It didn’t make it any easier to walk away from his last state track meet as a head coach, either, though he did manage to get a special send-off.
“It did me proud to not only coach a young man like Seth (Holliday), but also to walk away in the last event that I was the head track coach with a state medal,” Lyle said.
Looking ahead to the future and trying to forecast any changes, comparing Brad and Lyle as coaches is really an apples to apples scenario (or “Alleys to Alleys,” as it were), as both have history coaching cross country, basketball and track, respectively.
Brad served as head coach of the Royal Valley cross country program in seven of his eight years (assisting his first year) at the school, while also working as an assistant coach with the track team for all eight years. He also led the boys basketball team for three years and served as an assistant coach with the girls basketball team this past season.
Meanwhile, Lyle has a similar, albeit longer, coaching history, coaching track at JHHS for the same 36 years (16 years as head coach) as he has been leading the cross country program. He also served as an assistant coach with the girls basketball program for 25 years.
In his 36 years at Jackson Heights, Lyle has coached four state team champions and three individual state champions in cross country and has taken at least one runner to state every year. Track and field is almost the exact same story, as Lyle said he has had a distance runner competing in Wichita for all but one of those years.
Those would seem to be some impressive shoes to try and fill, but maybe because of his familiarity and first-hand experiences, Brad (a 2001 JHHS grad) said he feels comfortable stepping into this role.
“The only pressure that I feel is the pressure I put on myself and I’ve always put pressure on myself,” Brad said. “Obviously, he (his dad) had a lot of success, but I have a lot of confidence. I was able to run my own program for seven years.”
Spending that time at Royal Valley was a valuable asset in giving him that confidence, Brad said, and while he said his father’s presence won’t loom over him that doesn’t mean his influence won’t be felt.
“As I got into coaching as a young coach starting out, I obviously picked his brain about a lot of things, some in cross country and when I was the head basketball coach. I used him as a crutch a lot as a young coach,” Brad said. “In my cross country program, you could see his influence in there. I didn’t run my program exactly like his, but there were elements there that definitely had his influence, so I would say that he’s had a big impact there.”
Take your pick of any generic, genetic father/son cliché and it most likely applies to the Alleys. Even still, Brad said Lyle will continue to be a resource as he stays on as athletic director, middle school track and cross country coach and teacher. The two will even be close in the school, as their classrooms will be right across the hall from each other.
While Brad said he wouldn’t have wanted this opportunity right out of college, the insight and experience he’s gained along the way has prepared him for this homecoming.
“That’s a place that I grew up in that school. A lot of the coaches who were there when I was growing up were like uncles to me, so I have quite a lot of pride in the green and gold.” Brad said. “I think when I made my decision to apply for the job at Jackson Heights, which was a really tough decision, I was all in and now I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity and the chance to be at a place that I love and a place that I want to put a lot of time and effort into.”
It means a lot to Lyle, too, who noted one of the main reasons he stepped down was because he felt the split between serving as athletic director and coach was cheating his student-athletes. He wanted to hand the program off to someone who would dedicate themselves to the athletes and knowing it will be his son taking over only makes it that much more special.
“I think he’s going to be a lifer. His kids are young and he wants them to go to Jackson Heights. It just means everything to me, to be back with him, to have him take over a program that I put my heart and soul into for all those years,” Lyle said. “I’m passing the torch on to a new generation and I know that new generation is going to have the love and passion that I had.”
Throughout his final season, Lyle was quick to point out that no one has ever won the Kentucky Derby on a mule and that he has had a lot of good kids (“stallions”) contribute to his success. Continuing with his metaphor, it seems Jackson Heights has seen the benefits of that and doubled down on the progeny of a thoroughbred hopefully leading to more success in the future.