Al Carius has won many prestigious awards over his 51-year coaching career at North Central College, a NCAA Division III program in Naperville.
This month, Carius, a 74-year old Morton native, earned the honor of the George Dales Award, which is given to an individual who has enhanced the profession of coaching track and field and cross country each year since its inauguration in 2006.
“I think the humbling part for me is that any honor like that is a direct reflection of all the people that have been in my life and all of the people that have really helped mold me to the value system and structure that I have,” Carius said.
The foundation of the value system he has developed over the course of his life started as a teenager growing up in Morton.
“I firmly believe the core of who I am comes from Morton,” Carius said. “That’s where my roots are and I am so thankful to be a part of that.”
Carius said that his idol growing up was his older brother, Jim. The Carius brothers spent a lot of time traveling across the state, watching and playing sports as youngsters.
“I remember distinctly as a little boy when my brother was playing basketball and being in awe being around the athletes,” Carius said. “I had an athletic mentor with my brother who I really idolized and helped shape me.”
A four-sport athlete in high school, Carius played basketball, baseball and football in his freshman and sophomore years at Morton.
However, in his junior year as a Potter, Carius was introduced to a new competition.
“My junior year at Morton they created a cross country team, so I joined the team so I could get in shape for basketball,” Carius said. “So I got started in running long distances on accident.”
Although he enjoyed playing sports because it was a way to socialize with friends and was fun, Carius quickly realized that his athletic future would focus on running.
“Over time I realized I wasn’t a great athlete in football, basketball or baseball,” Carius said. “I thought that with hard work and determination, I could become a good distance runner.”
And boy was he right.
After two years of successful running at Morton, Carius went to the University of Illinois, where he graduated in 1964, to compete in track and field and cross country.
During his time at Illinois, Carius was a part of five Big Ten championships, which included three in track and two in cross country.
After graduating from Illinois, Carius ran competitively until 1968.
He then parlayed his years of running into a coaching position.
The rest is history. Since joining North Central College in 1965, Carius has created one of the biggest dynasties in all of NCAA athletics.
His teams have won 17 NCAA Division III national championships in cross country, been crowned coach of the year ten times and has produced over 500 All-Americans in cross country and track and field combined in his 50-plus years at the Naperville college.
To add to the list, Carius has also been inducted into the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
The main source of inspiration to get into coaching was legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden.
“Wooden was highly successful but he worked on the inside of the athlete,” Carius said. “He said if he could get the human characteristics to flourish in each player, then they would be the best athlete that they could be, and I really believe that.”
His main philosophy for coaching is to “run for fun and personal bests,” which aims to teach the lesson to run for self-satisfaction and personal development first, then for victory and prestige.
“My goal at North Central College has always been to help young people to learn through athletics, which I believe is a learning laboratory for learning life skills,” Carius said. “A properly conducted athletic program can go below the surface and help develop a person psychologically and spiritually to be able to come to peace with themselves and become comfortable with who they really are.”
While Carius understands that his role as a coach is the main reason athletes join his program, he also acknowledges that being a teacher of values is something that he makes a top priority.
“What we do as coaches and teachers is probably more important than ever before,” Carius said. “It is important to be positive influences on young peoples lives. I want to be a positive reflection of life values that can help people.”
Carius believes that there are a lot of similarities between his current home of North Central College and his childhood home of Morton.
“Being at a small school like North Central College, it is in many ways similar to my days at Morton,” Carius said. “I think I can help young people become successful and happy with their own lives because I have been through what they are going through.”
Through all of the years of coaching, Carius has earned countless amounts of honors and awards, but believes that each distinction is a reflection of all the people he has encountered in life.
“A trophy is a nice honor but what is important is the reflection that may go onto other peoples life,” Carius said. “That’s what I feel coaching and teaching is all about. If what I do has a positive impact on somebody else’s life, then that is far more important to me.”
Despite currently residing in Naperville, Carius still calls Morton his home.
“When I visit, I walk the streets and go to the cemetery where my parents and high school friends are,” Carius said. “I am thankful for the life lessons that I learned and the experiences that I had with the people that influenced me in Morton.”