It happened 34 years ago, but George Buckheit will never forget that day in gym class at Albertus Magnus High School in the spring of 1973. How could he? In just a few seconds' time, one man changed the course of his life. His name was Dick Weis. "We had just finished playing basketball and were running laps around the gym," Buckheit said. "Coach Weis was going to be teaching next period's gym class, and he saw me and grabbed me by the arm. He said, 'Buckheit, you're coming out for my track.' " Buckheit, who went on to help Albertus win the state cross country meet in 1974, became an all-American at Bucknell at both the 3-mile and 10-kilometer distances. He now works in a running store and coaches a variety of track and field programs in Reston, Va. And he knows none of that would have happened if not for Weis - a White Plains native who is starting his 25th year at Oklahoma State University, where he has coached 53 all-Americans in cross country and track and field. "He's an amazing, amazing guy," Buckheit said of Weis. "He believed I could be a good runner. Up until that point in my life, I was wondering what I was going to do with my life." Despite all the achievements he has enjoyed during his long and successful tenure, the 69-year-old Weis takes most pride in all the lives he's touched - and, in many cases, altered - along the way. "I think the biggest thing is when you get to this level, you have athletes with good skills, and you want to put them in position to be successful in life, get good jobs, support a family and do well in a chosen profession," Weis said. Weis tells recruits and those in his program that he employs a "big-two theory." "You can do two things well at the same time, but if you try to do three or four or five, you wind up being mediocre," Weis said. The two things Weis emphasizes are "run track and get your degree." This past spring, Oklahoma State's men's team posted a 3.342 grade-point average, and five of its members were Academic All-Americans. Weis has coached plenty of stellar athletes along the way, including Christine McMiken, a star in cross country as well as indoor and outdoor track, who set the world record for the 3-mile run in February 1984 at 14 minutes, 53.8 seconds. His 22-year tenure as the Cowboys' cross country coach (he stepped down as head coach last year so that assistant Dave Smith could take over) was highlighted by a string of nine straight NCAA championships appearances in the 1990s. And the seeds for all this success were planted in the Lower Hudson Valley. Weis was a track standout at Stepinac, where he graduated in 1956. After graduation from King's College, he became recreation director in Mount Pleasant before leaving that job to become a teacher at Albertus Magnus. In the mid-1970s, he thought he had found his dream job when he was hired as a physical-education teacher and track coach at Monroe-Woodbury. "I thought I died and went to heaven," said Weis, who has five children and nine grandchildren with his wife of 41 years, Donna. But after just one year, Weis lost his job amid budget cutbacks. After sending out résumés all over the country, he was hired in 1979 as women's track coach at Missouri, where he coached 26 all-Americans before moving to Oklahoma State on Aug. 15, 1983. Now, with a little more than a year left on his contract with the Cowboys, he's decided to stay in Oklahoma during his retirement.
"When I first went out to Missouri, it was like culture shock at first," he said. "But my family is all here now, so I'd stay here."