Robert Woodhouse is one of the most prolific cross country coaches in Waxahachie High School history, but if you let him tell it, he had little or nothing to do with the program’s success during his tenure.
The Waxahachie Indians cross country team will kick off a new season Friday by unveiling the first Waxahachie Woodhouse Invitational, named after the program’s most successful coach.
Woodhouse, who started his career as a bus driver for Euless at Elliot Bell High School, has coached and taught in Waxahachie for 32 years.
Woodhouse is responsible for the Indians last four-team and individual state championship appearances. He took teams to the state championships four years straight, from 1995 to 1999, and was largely responsible for the 2000 state qualifying team.
Under his tutelage, Waxahachie boys cross country coach Edward De La Cruz learned what it meant to be a teacher rather than coach and Greg Compton and Cody Herndon reached new heights and numerous individual accomplishments.
Compton was the first and only cross country-runner in Waxahachie school history to go to state individually in every year for four years.
Compton, who ran for Woodhouse from 1997 to 1999 said Woodhouse was instrumental in his development as a runner and as a man.
“He always pushed me to be the best I could be,” said Compton. “Coach Woodhouse always demanded you take pride in everything you do and put your mind into. It wasn’t only what he said, it was how he carried himself.”
Cody Herndon, was the first person in over 20 years to qualify for regionals in cross country, doing so during the 1994 season. The following year he was the first Waxahachie cross country athlete to qualify for state. He still holds Waxahachie’s 2-mile record.
Herndon said the example Woodhouse set had the biggest impact on him. Woodhouse was the first to teach him on how to be a leader.
“It was August and I remember it being exceptionally hot,” said Herndon. “We had a long run that day and most of us were not in the best shape, because we were just coming off of summer vacation. I decided to walk toward the end of the run. When coach Woodhouse saw this, he asked me ‘Why are you walking?’
“He told me that people follow leaders who set the example. It was the first time I can remember that people actually followed me and my actions. If I had a bad attitude and walked, the rest of the team would. Conversely, if I busted my tail, so would the rest of the team. It was an invaluable lesson I have carried with me and a lesson I try to teach to every person I come in contact with, regardless of business or interpersonal relationships.”
For Herndon, the greatest example of what Woodhouse means to the city of Waxahachie is the coach’s strength after his diagnosis.
“He may not love that I share this story, but a long time ago, coach had some health issues and had to wear a colostomy bag,” said Herndon. “He would run with us anytime he could before his diagnosis, but with the health issue, it prevented him from doing so. That didn’t stop him from pushing me. Instead of running he got on his bike and rode next to me, pushing me every step of the way and demanding the best out of me. That is his inspiration, his value. God bless him, he means the world to me.”
In 1992, Woodhouse was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease in which the lining of the large intestine becomes inflamed. Though they removed the intestine, the life-threatening experience was eye-opening for Woodhouse.
“I was basically bleeding to death,” said Woodhouse. “This happened when I was coaching at the junior high still. God and I had a good conversation and we made a deal. I was ready to go home if he wanted me, and I would stick around an teach children if he wanted me to.”
That realization led him on a long recovery and to the doorstep of Waxahachie High School, where he molded generations of children who went on to be kind, hard working residents of the city.
“I wanted my athletes to know no matter where you are, get better at whatever you’re doing,” Woodhouse said. “Just as in life, if things come in your way — and there will be obstacles — keep working and things will always get better. And they always did.”
One of those resident’s is Sadie (Kowalski) Boley, who met Woodhouse at the tail-end of his career at Waxahachie High School and first met him after a friend invited her to a team practice.
“The first time I joined the team for practice, I had no idea what I was in for,” said Boley. “I had never run long distance before. When everyone took off down the road, I just followed. I hadn’t made it very far before I began wondering what I was thinking when I signed up for this.
“Just as I was about to turn around and head back, coach Woodhouse ran right up next to me and helped me push through and keep going. That was the day I knew I wanted to be a part of his team. I knew there was something special about him. I mean, how many coaches also drive the bus to your competitions?”
That year, Boley was part of a freshman team that qualified for regionals.
Boley said she cherishes the memories of Woodhouse and how he treated athletes less like a team and more like family.
“Though he is a man of few words, what he did say was important, powerful, and always able to brighten your day,” said Boley. “He has a peace about him that is hard to describe and his calming energy has a positive effect on those around him. He loved each and every one of us.”
That, in a nutshell, is why De La Cruz decided to name Waxahachie’s first invitational in nearly a decade for his beloved former coach.
“After taking the program to state multiple years — between 1995 and 1999 — he deserved recognition,” Delacruz said. “When a coach has that much success during his or her career, they name a gym, football field or tournament after them. I felt no one remembered or knew what he accomplished as a coach. It was our way — the former alumni — to give back to him so he can know he’s appreciated for all he’s done for us.”
De La Cruz said the foundation Woodhouse instilled in him had a part to play when he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps.
“A lot of times when you’re younger, you get upset at coaches and how strict they are and how they treat you,” said De La Cruz.
“As you do get older, you tend to appreciate the little things he did for you and all the things he did for the program. He always taught me to do my best and to be a better person. That in itself made me want to do more for my community and my country. Part of the reason I went was because of what he instilled in me.”
And true to his humble nature, Woodhouse deflected praise and accomplishment to the students he led.
“When you have good athletes and God’s in control of things, you just do what you’re supposed to do and follow through,” said Woodhouse. “I really didn’t do anything. I’m just an old grey-haired dude that happened to work with a bunch of great athletes.”