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For young athletes, growing up to be a professional athlete would be a dream come true. Many envision themselves going on to a college scholarship before taking the court or field for their favorite professional team. One Neligh-Oakdale graduate saw that dream through to college before taking up the mantle of training other young athletes to reach their goals.
Dana Schwarting, an Oakdale native, graduated from Neligh-Oakdale in 1991 as a highly decorated athlete himself. A four-sport athlete, he was a football player, a member of the last boys basketball team to qualify for state and a pitcher on a state championship baseball team. Where he truly excelled, however, was on the track.
“He was special,” said Neligh-Oakdale coach Rick Eicholt. “Very coachable. In fact, there was another hurdler that graduated at the same time and they competed against each other and made each other better.”
He set four school records while competing for the Warriors. Arguably his most successful event was the hurdles, where he still holds the school records with times of 14.7 seconds in the 110 high hurdles and 40.09 seconds in the 300 intermediate hurdles. He credited being from a small town for growing his passion for sports.
“It was cool going to a little smaller high school where I had the opportunity to play four sports,” Schwarting said. “I played football in the fall, I was able to play basketball in the winter, track in the spring and I was on the baseball teams in the summer. Being able to do all four sports really cultivated my love of athletics.”
After graduating, he moved on to the University of South Dakota, where he joined the track team and continued to flourish. He earned four varsity letters competing in the hurdles, long jump and as a decathlete. Twice, he was a North Central Conference champion and national qualifier in the 110 high hurdles. He also earned all-conference honors in the decathlon, pentathlon and long jump. He graduated as the school record holder in the pentathlon and shuttle-hurdle relay.
After graduation, Schwarting joined the South Dakota coaching staff and embarked on a journey that would turn out to be even more successful than his impressive competitive career. He spent time as a graduate assistant before moving on to Morningside College as an assistant and eventually head coach for the Mustangs where he coached a couple of impressive athletes.
“When I was at Morningside College, I had two really phenomenal athletes that were both NCAA national champions and both went on to the Olympic Trials. One went on to the Olympics in the hammer throw. His name was A.G. Kruger,” said Schwarting.
Kruger went on to represent the United States at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece where he finished 32nd in the Hammer Throw. The other Morningside athlete that went to the Olympic Trials was Meredith Davis, who still holds eight school records for the Mustangs.
He then moved on to his current position as head coach of the Lewis University track and field team in Romeoville, Ill. Under Schwarting’s tutelage, the Flyers have earned 14 conference titles in both men’s and women’s track and field. His athletes have earned more than 100 All-American awards.
Off the track, Schwarting still stays plenty busy. He met his wife Lisa while in school at South Dakota and they will celebrate their 20th anniversary in August. Together, they now live in Joliet, Ill. and have a few young athletes of their own in sons Logan, Parker and Keegan. Schwarting says that with his sons growing up, he stays just about as busy away from work as he does at work.
“There are lots of sports that they are into as well, so when I’m not coaching sports, I’m driving my kids to their sports,” he said. “We’re pretty much a sports family 24/7/365.”
While Joliet is nearly nine hours from home, that hasn’t stopped Schwarting from keeping up with his hometown sports.
“I try to stay up with all the stuff happening in Neligh. I try to stay in touch with coach Eickholt. I was really happy to see they built the new track up there. I thought that was huge for the community,” he said. “It was cool to see the football program back winning again, basketball having success this year. It’s really cool to see the athletic department getting back it again and hitting on all cylinders.”
While he will be cheering on his hometown team at the state basketball tournament this weekend, he will also be busy himself as he will be making the trip with four of his athletes to Birmingham, Ala. for the 2017 NCAA Division II National Championships in hopes of adding to the Lewis Flyers legacy as well as his own.