Alan Peoples’ life plan never included having his name engraved on Polk County’s track.
Peoples had a simple vision in 1979 when he accepted a position as principal at Stearns High School – stay one year, return to school and finish his doctorate, become a superintendent.
Life and love altered those plans, and Peoples never left Polk County. He eventually became boys cross country and track and field coach at newly-formed Polk County High School, later adding the same roles on the girls side, and built championship programs with all in a career that earned him a spot in the North Carolina High School Track and Field Hall of Fame.
Peoples’ latest accolade came Saturday as Polk County Schools announced the naming of the PCHS track complex as Alan Peoples Track. Temporary letters in the high jump area will soon give way to a permanent celebration of the 35-time coach of the year who has guided dozens of state champions and sent dozens on to college careers.
“You don’t often find me at a loss for words. Today, I’m at a loss for words,” Peoples said.
“You know, it’s still about the coaches and the kids and the community. It always has been, and it always will be. It’s never going to be about me. It’s about me fighting for my kids.”
Many of those kids, young and old, gathered around Peoples as Polk County Schools Superintendent Aaron Greene read through a list of Peoples’ accomplishments. Joining the crowd in the first turn was Peoples’ son, Seth, the former Polk County standout who serves as Grimsley High’s track and field coach and brought his team to Saturday’s J. Alan Peoples Invitational.
“It means a lot, not only that my son’s here, but my sister-in-law is here. Her best friend is here. My brother-in-law is here. My friends from Landrum are here. Some students came back,” Peoples said.
Coaching has been part of Peoples’ life for much of it. He coached while serving in the military and coached mulitple sports during his time as an educator and school administrator. Retirement from teaching has not slowed Peoples, who continues to lead all Wolverine programs while also serving as Tryon’s mayor.
He credits a pair of factors as key to his success.
“I think I have two strengths,” Peoples said. “The first one I have is finding good assistant coaches that love kids and love working with track. The second is taking kids and getting them to do things that they don’t believe they can do.
“Once you get them to do that one thing, as long as you’re realistic, they’ll keep doing those things and keep getting better. I think that’s the way life ought to be.”
Hard to argue with that.
After all, the man’s name is on the track.