A conversation with Darrell Anderson inevitably winds its way to cross country, track and field, or both.
Raconteur that he is, Anderson, now 64, can draw on an endless array of stories based on more than 50 years as an athlete and coach. Mostly, they're about one or more of the hundreds of athletes he's mentored during decades as Bismarck High School's track and cross country coach. Championships seldom enter the discussion.
"Kids are kids. I never cheer against kids. Every kid should get an opportunity to compete. ... Winning is important. You want to win. You should aspire to win, but exceeding expectations, that's a life-long learning lesson," said Anderson, who is retiring after 31 seasons as BHS track coach.
"It's just time," he said of his decision to retire as head coach. "Someone else should get a chance."
Anderson plans to continue as Bismarck's head cross country coach for a 40th season.
Although individual laurels didn't come Anderson's way as an athlete at BHS, Bismarck Junior College and North Dakota State University, he grew accustomed to winning. He ran on three Demon state track and field championship teams and two state cross country winners.
After being graduated from Bismarck in 1973, Anderson continued to compete in both sports at Bismarck Junior College and NDSU. He ran in five national meets, narrowly missing All-American status while competing at nationals for the Bison.
"In college the closest I came to being an All-American was 11th in the steeplechase one year," he recalled.
Although he wasn't a classroom educator at BHS, Anderson quickly displayed a deft teaching hand in the development of athletes.
He led Demon teams to 14 state track championships, 11 of them as a co-coach with Dave Zittleman. Anderson and Zittleman coached BHS to 11 straight state track titles before being sidetracked by Century in 2015.
"I think we won 10 events (in 2015) and didn't win the championship. ... When you win 10 events and don't win the meet you feel like a NASCAR driver who leads every lap but the last lap," Anderson recalled.
However, he takes some consolation in the fact that the state Class A boys track championship hasn't left the Capital City. Century won again in 2016, Legacy prevailed in 2017 and Century has taken the last two state titles.
"Bismarck teams have gone 1-2-3 in two of the last four years ... so we're still Track Town, North Dakota," Anderson observed. "That's pretty awesome. It just shows you that not only do we have great kids here, but there are some pretty strong influences. In the middle schools they have enthusiasm for and pride in track."
During the Anderson years, BHS track athletes claimed 91 individual state championships and garnered 40 relay titles. Twenty Demons were accorded All-American honors. Anderson was named national track coach of the year in 2012.
"It's been a real privilege to make Bismarck High relevant in track over the years," Anderson said. "I didn't start it, and to bring it forward was not easy. ... It required assistant coaches and athletes with passion."
In cross country, Anderson has coached 13 state championship Demon teams, 11 of them in tandem with Zittleman. Ten of those cross country titles came in the same academic year as BHS track championships. Century ended the cross country run by eclipsing the Demons in 2016.
When Anderson's track and, eventually, cross country coaching days are behind him, he doesn't plan to, MacArthur-like, fade away.
"If anybody wants me to hang around I'll be a volunteer assistant, or volunteer nuisance," he said.