Levi Sybert, Richmond Hill High School technology specialist and head track and cross country coach, has worn many hats over the past decade.
He has an undeniable passion, a love for running and a desire to develop the talent of young athletes. These are the very things fueling Sybert to continue his journey in track and field. Long since his days of crossing finish lines, this former runner is building a dynasty in the hill.
Sybert left his hometown in Ohio after high school graduation to pursue music business and concert promotion at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. There on track scholarship, he quickly began to realize his passion was much stronger for track.
Grateful for the scholarship and his ability to run, he felt the urge to begin seeking a program that better suited his abilities.
“Once I realized how much fun college athletics was, I wanted to continue to pursue it further. Middle Tennessee State University was a Division I school, and I felt like I could fit in well with their program. It was a smooth transition into the program, and a great experience,” said Sybert.
Upon graduating with a bachelor’s degree in technology education from Middle Tennessee State University in 2004, he was offered a job at Siegel High School.
“Western Kentucky started to recruit me to be a graduate assistant coach. I honored my commitment and coached at Siegel, then I resigned a year later,” said Sybert.
While working as a graduate assistant at Western Kentucky, he obtained a master’s degree in school guidance counseling in 2005. With his degree under his belt, Sybert and wife Heather began researching areas on the coast to settle down. With their first child on the way, the couple wanted to find the perfect spot to settle down.
“We drove through this area and knew we wanted to be here. My wife Heather was pregnant with our first child and we vacationed in the area in 2005. We drove all over trying to explore surrounding towns. Bryan County Schools wasn’t hiring at the time, but we knew we really liked Richmond Hill. We stopped in at RE/MAX, ended up looking at about 24 houses that day not really expecting to buy right away,” Sybert said.
By the end of the day, they had made an offer on a house on Mill Run Road and have been in here ever since.
In 2006, Sybert took a position with Bryan County Schools.
“The first year we finished the season with five athletes. Jillian Yontz, Janelle McKenney, Patricia Martinez, Donald Roberts and Cody Hall. Now in 2017, we have 165 students signed up to compete,” he said.
Although not all will finish the season, the interest to plug into the sport is there, he said.
“We inherited a baton and two rusty shot puts. This was all the equipment we had — we ended up going up with five that finished to 45, then to 60 — back then we could not host at home because we didn’t have the facility,” Sybert said.
He began a two-year journey to incorporate more and better equipment. The program now has 3,208 meters worth of trails, two hills, an eight-lane track, 14 LED lights, pole vault, LED clock, hosting equipment, land discus, working pavilion and a fully functional steeple chase, the only one in the area, which Sybert said offers a huge advantage to the athletes.
Aside from the new track and field elements and a team that continues to grow in numbers, the winning is what sets RHHS apart from other programs.
Team Top 10 state finishes since 2010
2010-Boys track and field (10th)
2013-Girls cross country (8th)
2014-Boys track and field (9th)
2014-Girls cross country (9th)
2015-Girls cross country (10th)
2016-Boys cross country (4th)
2017-Boys track and field (2nd)
2017-Girls cross country (10th)
2017-Boys cross country (3rd)
2008-2017 All-State event performances
Track and field = 39
Cross Country = 7
RHHS state champions
2010: Shaquille Walker (800m)
2011: Shaquille Walker (800m)
2016: Daryn Petitt (800m)
2017: Sam James (400m)
2017: Boys 4x400m relay
2012 Girls cross country
2013 Girls cross country
2014 Girls cross country
2015 Girls cross country
2016 Girls cross country
2017 Girls cross country
2013 Boys cross country
2014 Boys cross country
2015 Boys cross country
2016 Boys cross country
2017 Boys cross country
2017 Boys track and field
None of this would be possible without the demanding work of the athletes and committed coaching staff. Heather Sybert coaches track and field, sprints and jumps. Colette Hammesfahr coaches cross country, track and field and distances. Both have completed six seasons with the team. Mike Skinkle is the newest coach with one season, coaching track and field and pole vault.
“Using athletics, we are cultivating situations that (students) have to respond to in a controlled environment. You want someone to be motivated and learn how to set goals,” said Sybert. “They are setting goals — they have stress of competition and must be able to perform. Coping with success and failure is a part of that. These are all things that can be guided by coaches. We have created issues and situations to help foster these kids as they leave RHHS. They are ultimately learning the foundation of how to cope with situations from athletics.”
Sybert said he plans to continue establishing this student-led, family-oriented culture and allow students to take ownership over their training and progress.
“It is about making personal commitments and experiencing success,” he said.