Ludwig Exemplifies The Term ‘True Astro’

Tucker Carter and Brendan Zaker

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When former track head coach Troy Walker turned over the reins to current coach Dan Ludwig, it was not the typical transition.

The two have already had an extraordinary connection because of the path Ludwig took to get there. Walker was the coach from 1997-2009 before giving way to Ludwig.

During his tenure Walker had the privilege of coaching Dan.

“After Dan ran for me at Shepard, he came back as a volunteer assistant for several years before I stepped aside and he slid in as head track coach,” said Walker. “While working as a head coach he worked primarily with the sprinters and high jumpers so he had a great deal of responsibility and was in charge of several athletes at the time.”

Over time Walker’s level of respect for Ludwig has only grown stronger. “He has gone from being one my favorite all time runners to a great assistant coach to one of my best friends,” said Walker. “It has been such a pleasure to work with him and even more so work alongside him as a colleague today.”

Although both of these very successful coaches share the love of track, Ludwig’s career in the sport started as preparation for football.

“I initially ran track to get more athletic for football, but after a couple of seasons, I fell in love with the sport,” recalled Ludwig.

Walker recalls the story very similarly. “He was the typical high school athlete that loved football, but did track to stay in shape for football,” said Walker. “While he will always love football, he came to love track just as much if not more his last couple of years of high school.”

Walker fondly remembers Ludwig’s versatility on the track. “He was great out of the blocks,” Walker added, “and also strong on the turn. I could put him anywhere on a relay, but leadoff is so important and he was clutch in that position, so that is where he raced often.”

Ludwig competed as a sprinter and jumper. He ran mainly the 200 and 400 meter and did some long and triple jumping in addition to the sprint relays.

Ludwig takes the baton from a teammate (Photo courtesy of Odyssey, 2006).

“Ludwig was one of our top runners and a school record holder in multiple relays,” stated Walker. “He was strong in the 100,200, and 400. He was such a good athlete that he helped us in the jumps as well.”

Ludwig’s name can be seen in the Shepard record book as part of the both the 4×200 indoor and outdoor teams, as well as, being a member of the 4×400 school record relay team. The 4×200 outdoor record still stands today.

Ludwig’s unselfish nature makes it no surprise that his fondest memories came as part of a team. His favorite memories were running the relays. He feels that running relays at larger invites was an incredible experience.

“They can be grueling races that take everything out of you,” Ludwig reasoned, “But when you run them well you get an aftermath feeling of pure euphoria.”

One of those relays earned Dan a trip to the state finals at Eastern Illinois University. His former head coach remembers vividly the race in which he earned that trip.

“I just remember when he and his teammates were jumping in ecstasy at the Plainfield IHSA sectional meet his senior year when they realized that they had just run the automatic qualifying time to qualify for the IHSA state meet,” recalled Walker.

The relay team did not qualify for the finals at state despite a huge effort from Ludwig. Ludwig had the unenviable task of leading off from the outside lane. He got the team out in front as the announcer even recognized his explosive start.

Even though Walker could not possibly have predicted who his successor would eventually be, he did recognize his strong potential.

“He was a great leader and extremely reliable young man,” said Walker.

Even with that Walker knew there are no guarantees. His continued growth was what has gotten him to where he is now.

“There are times when you see a mature high school student/athlete during their high school years and while they continue to mature and be successful you just expect them to flourish more than they do,” stated Walker. “While I knew Dan was a mature, hardworking, high character young man when he ran for me, when he transitioned into coaching at a very young age (while still in college) he continued to grow and mature in many ways. His work ethic and character both increased and he succeeded much more than I had seen from people of that age. Fast forward to now when he has been a coach and teacher for several years and he hasn’t stopped growing and improving.”

One of the coaches on his staff Joe Lerner admires Ludwig’s versatility. “Coach Ludwig is an excitable, passionate, firecracker of a head coach! He roars like a lion when needed, but is as gentle and nurturing as an elegant gazelle when the situation calls for it. He’s a natural leader who will vocally sound the trumpets and march with his troops into the fiery battlefield that is track and field,” stated Lerner.

Ludwig has built quite an impressive resume in his eight seasons. In his first year the team finished second. Since that time the Astros have run off seven consecutive South Suburban Red Conference championships. During that time the Astros have qualified for state in 18 events. Three of those were all-state.

Lerner along with Clint Connelly, Chris Lewis and AJ Porter have been on Ludwig’s staff the whole time.

As a Shepard track athlete Ludwig was fortunate enough to have a strong mentor on the team.  He also ran with another notable track star Richards Sims (class of 2004) who held school records in just about every individual sprint event at that time.

Walker remembers their unique bond.

” [Simms] was one of the few different kids that served as a great mentor for Dan and some of his younger teammates,” said Walker. “Like Dan, Richard was a great young man and both were very mature for their ages.”

Dan has several role models in his life. He credits Walker with helping him develop a passion for both track and coaching.  He credits math teachers Jim Jett and Dustin DeFrates for doing the same in math.

“They’ve all helped me grow into the teacher, coach, husband, and father I am today,’’ said Ludwig.

Ludwig’s success can be attributed to his determination that extends beyond the track. Walker recalls him being a great student in the classroom. As a captain of track, and a student, teachers and coaches had nothing but great things to say about him.

On the gridiron Ludwig also played a leadership role. Current Assistant Principal of Curriculum and Instruction Andrew Deines was his head football coach his senior year.

Dan was a very good leader and very fierce competitor,” said Deines. “He could consistently push himself and his teammates to be better. While he was vocal as a leader, he led most by example with his actions on the practice and game fields.”

Dan was a two-way starter senior year, playing linebacker and running back, he was also elected captain of the football team that year.

In spite of athletic success, he was in many ways the typical high school student. He struggled with balancing all that was on his plate. He played multiple sports, in which he felt he was far more motivated in than in the classroom. During high school he also held a job at Hollywood Park in Crestwood, but he reiterated that he never missed any sports because of work.

By his senior year, the light bulb went on academically as he gained a thirst for knowledge and education that pushed him in the right direction. He attributes this success to the teachers and coaches that helped him reach his max potential.

The track star graduated from Shepard and went on to earn an associate’s degree from Moraine Valley, a bachelor’s degree from Trinity Christian College, and masters from Concordia University.

His math department colleague and girls head track coach Scot Rybarczyk had great things to say as well. He sees Ludwig as a valuable member of the Shepard community.

Mr. Ludwig is a good man who is always there to help his students, athletes, and fellow colleagues”, stated Rybarczyk. “I appreciate being able to have conversations about track and field, school and mathematics and most importantly life. Coach is a great asset to Shepard High School.”

Science teacher Joey Sparenberg who taught Ludwig in chemistry said, “Mr. Ludwig was a good student who worked hard. He is a role model for all the students at Shepard. He has shown that hard work pays off.”

Former head football coach and current science teacher Nick Bax who coached Dan as a junior is not at all surprised by Ludwig’s success.

What I remember about Dan was simple,” said Bax. “He was a great team member by action. He had a great work ethic and was an intense competitor. It was no surprise to me he was selected as a captain his senior year. He was also a vocal leader, respected by his teammates, and could back it up on the field.”

Bax puts it all in perspective when he calls him a True Astro.