Former Ames High track & field head coach John Sletten is a legend. For 43 years, he built a championship tradition for the Little Cyclones that is unrivaled, and today, the track at Ames High Stadium is named in his honor. Mr. Sletten passed away the morning of September 8 after battling a brain tumor. He was 88 years old.
Beginning in the fall of 1958, John Oliver Sletten has devoted a major portion of his life to teaching and coaching high school students and athletes. In 1954, John graduated with a BA (cum laude) from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, his hometown. He was a three-year track letter winner and captain of the “Ole” thinclads his senior year. He later earned an MA degree from the University of Minnesota in 1962 and did additional graduate work at the University of New Hampshire in 1968.
Following graduation from St. Olaf, John served with the U.S. Army in Germany for two years when he returned to Minnesota to begin his teaching and coaching career. After a one-year stop in Fairbault, MN, he went back home to Northfield High School where he taught and coached for twelve years.
In the spring of 1969, John was invited to interview for a teaching position in English at Ames High School, which coincided with openings for a head cross country and head track coach positions. In the ensuing 43 years, John has dedicated himself to maintaining and building the rich tradition of Ames High track and field and cross country.
During 37 seasons (1969-2005) as boys’ cross-country coach, John guided the Little Cyclones to 168 victories, highlighted by five state championships, three state second-place finishes, 15 district championships, and 17 conference titles. John also established the girls’ cross-country program in 1973 and directed the Ames High girls to two district championships (1974 & 1975) and a state second-place finish (1975) in his four seasons as head coach (1973-1976).
In his 41 years at the helm of the boys’ track program, John’s teams finished first in 305 out of 401 scored meets, including nine state outdoor championships, eight state indoor titles, 24 conference championships, 18 district crowns, and eight state outdoor runner-up finishes. During those years, Ames High produced 35 individual and 19 relay state champions and 17 individual and 15 relay Drake Relays champions and captured the state outdoor title an unprecedented six consecutive years (1986-1991). After retiring as head coach in 2010, John has continued his contribution to Little Cyclone track as an associate coach directing the boys’ hurdlers.
John has served as an executive board member of both the Minnesota (1959-1969) and Iowa (1970-1976) Track and Cross-Country Coaches Associations. He also served for 12 years on the Iowa High School Athletic Association Track and Cross-Country Advisory Board (1984-1996). His numerous high school coaching honors include: National High School Track Coach of the Year, awarded in 2001 by the National High School Coaches Association; the Iowa Association of Track Coaches (IATC) State Track Coach of the Year (1980, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989 & 1991); IATC State Cross-Country Coach of the Year (1982, 1983, & 1989); eleven IAT Regional Coach of the Year awards; CIML Iowa Conference Cross-Country Coach of the Year in 2003 and 2004; and CIML Iowa Conference Track Coach of the Year in 2005. He has been named to the Iowa Parks and Recreation Association Hershey Youth Track and Field Hall of Fame.
For his 43 years at Ames High, John appreciated first and foremost the opportunity to work with many track and cross country athletes and his associations with the loyal and dedicated members of the Ames High coaching staff. In addition to the state championships and undefeated seasons, he took great pride in his teams having “achieved far beyond their given abilities in their effort to maintain the championship tradition of Ames High cross-country and track and field.”