Skip to main content

Midvale Journal

Former student-athlete turned Hillcrest mentor named UHSAA 5A Coach of the Year

Feb 03, 2023 09:50AM ● By Julie Slama

Hillcrest High coach Scott Stucki gives then senior Derek Croft his splits during his April 2022 race at Juab High School in Nephi, Utah. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

Every season-ending banquet, Hillcrest High cross country coach Scott Stucki tears up. The team waits for the moment from the mostly stoic coach.  

This year, some thought it may be when the school Athletic Director Scott Carrell surprised Stucki with the announcement that the longtime coach was named Utah High School Activities Association’s 5A Coach of the Year.

But they were wrong.

The tears and hugs came when Stucki talked about his runners.

“I always break down when I talk about the seniors, but I never know which one it will be,” he said.

Many times, it’s not for the top runners. It may be for the runner in the back of the JV squad who has demonstrated outstanding leadership, or it may be one of those runners who overcame injury or when a runner moved up into the varsity squad when few believed.

Stucki was honored at a luncheon Jan. 11 in front of his peers and the UHSAA and received a wooden plaque.

Hillcrest’s most tenured coach has at least 67 seasons—he hasn’t kept it tallied—of UHSAA coaching experience. He coached 27 seasons of girls’ and boys’ track and field, 25 seasons of girls’ and boys’ cross country, and 15 seasons of boys’ basketball. In addition, he has coached 10 seasons of nonsanctioned indoor track. Stucki estimates “well over 1,000 kids” he’s coached.

He also served four years as president of the Utah High School Track Coaches Association.

“I’m really excited for Scott,” Carrell said. “To have a coach with his tenure and commitment and the reputation he has throughout the state, it says a lot about his character and what he does for the kids here.”

It was 1987, just a few years after graduating high school when Stucki fell into coaching.

“I had started officiating indoor track meets at Idaho State since I competed in long and triple jump,” he said. “The Hawthorne (Middle School) head track coach mentioned that he needed help, because he was coaching both distance and long and triple jumps. I started coaching the jumps and then, I also helped with cross country.”

Stucki coached in Pocatello, Idaho for five years.

“I was OK with it, but I thought I would start coaching after I got a teaching job,” he said. 

By 1994, Stucki stepped up to help officiate long jump at a Sky View High track meet (in Smithfield, Utah) while student-teaching at North Cache (Middle School) in Richmond, Utah. When he learned they were without a long jump coach, Stucki assumed those duties.

In 1997, after moving to the Salt Lake Valley, he coached Brighton High’s long jumpers for a season before becoming an assistant track coach over long jump and pole vault as well as coached two seasons of cross country at Copper Hills High School.

In 1997, Stucki settled into teaching social studies at Midvale Middle, and coached boys’ basketball for 15 years. While still coaching basketball, he started helping with Hillcrest High’s cross country in 2003 when his son joined the team.

“The spring of 2005, I was at my son’s track meet and as I was watching, I thought, ‘Ah, I miss this,’” Stucki said.

The next season, he helped with pole vault and worked himself into being a full-time assistant. Stucki was hired as the full-time track coach after the 2006 season.

In 2007, he also stepped into the assistant cross country coaching position. Seven years later, he became head coach. 

Stucki remains Hillcrest’s cross country and track coach. 

“I’ve always known I would coach. I feel like it’s what I’m supposed to do. I like working with the kids and seeing them accomplish things they don’t think they could,” he said. “Truthfully, some of my best moments from coaching aren’t from our best kids, but from some of our other kids.”

In cross country, Stucki recalls a runner who usually finished toward the back of the pack, yet she stuck with it.

“She kept getting better. Her goal was to break 40 minutes. We were at the Utah State Invitational and there was a girl right alongside her. She outkicked that other runner at the finish and all the other kids were so excited for her. It was a cool moment, and she found some success when she didn’t think she was ever going to have any,” he said.

Another student-athlete decided to try distance running in track after sprinting didn’t work out for her. 

“She was having a hard time even breaking eight minutes (in the 1600 meters) and she was discouraged and wanted to quit,” Stucki said. “After our time trial—she wouldn’t do it because she was so discouraged—I said, ‘I’m not worried about you breaking eight minutes. I’m worried about you breaking seven minutes.’ She looked at me like I had three heads.” 

The runner remained dedicated and diligently worked Stucki’s speed workouts to end up running a 6:50 at JV region.

“She found me out after the finish line and was draped over me, just sobbing tears of absolute joy. All her friends were crying, and it was just one of my favorite moments of all the times,” Stucki said. “It’s one of the reasons I love cross country and track; it’s finding victories. It’s about helping kids find their competitive level and accomplishing things.”

While Stucki will trail his team on a run, joke around or talk with them about his truck or alma mater Utah State University, he is dedicated to their success. He will map his runners’ progress, create workouts for them to specifically improve and be right there at the race with a stopwatch. He has even met a runner who missed a time trial later, so she could run the course.

“I always tell the kids most of you aren’t going to compete against anybody but yourselves. So, when they go out there, they give it their all, to get better,” he said.

When it results in a region win, the runners hold Stucki to his longtime promise. He performs a cartwheel, which is captured and treasured on his runners’ cell phones.

During his tenure, about 20 cross country or track and field athletes have competed at the collegiate level. He’s also had a few of his middle school basketball players play college ball after high school.

As a boy, Stucki “played everything.” 

“I don’t remember not loving sports. There are lots of photos of me as a young child holding a ball of some sort. In one of them, I wore a sand pail like a football helmet over my head. It doesn’t matter what sport it was; I was just crazy about all of them,” he said.

One of Stucki’s earliest memories was when his dad took him as a 4-year-old to high school games in nearby Montpelier, Idaho.

“I thought those guys were so amazing,” he said. “I remember when I was 3 or 4 years old, our house had a door frame across the whole room, and I would use that as if it was the backboard for a basket. I would do layup lines like the high school team kids did,” adding he wore his pajama top in the same fashion to mimic the players’ uniforms. “I would do layup lines by myself. There wasn’t a basket, but that didn’t matter. I wanted to play like them.”

Stucki played one year of high school football as a defensive back before he realized he was too small. He also played freshman basketball before realizing at 5-foot-2, he wasn’t going to make the cut for the JV squad. He played about any position on his Little League team, but he didn’t play high school baseball since the school didn’t have a team.

So, he found running. 

Stucki ran and lettered three years of cross country—“they killed the program before my senior year”—and earned letters three of his four years in track. He mostly ran the 800 meters, anchored the medley relay, and taught himself the triple jump. 

“I was just very passionate and learned technique and anything I could about my sport,” he said, adding that it is the advice he would give to new coaches today.  

Then the tenured coach adds: “Be true to yourself, you can’t be someone else and use their training plans even if it has a lot of success. It has to be tweaked for your athletes, for your personality and program.”

Even at the UHSAA recognition, Stucki, not one for the limelight, repeated the same thing he said when he learned about the award.

“Truthfully, I don’t know how I feel about it,” Stucki said. “It’s a really nice recognition and it’s cool somebody thought to nominate me. I feel I haven’t done anything special; we haven’t won that many region trophies and there are other coaches deserving. If you look at it as a lifetime achievement award, I’ve been around awhile, but I’m still coaching.”