Ever since his high school days at Lee High School of Huntsville in the mid-1960s, John Robert Esslinger seemed destined to make a big name for himself in the related sports of track and cross country. He certainly did just that. It began when Esslinger was a young prep athlete at Lee, where he showed early promise as a runner. He eventually fulfilled his potential as a senior in 1967 by becoming a sectional champion in both the 120-yard high hurdles and the 180-yard low hurdles still a school record. I remember the first race that I won, Esslinger says. I didnt win any until I was a senior. I had worked hard every day on my hurdling, and didnt realize how fast I had become. I was so surprised to be out in front that I almost stopped. Ill never forget that feeling. But in the years to come, it was in the realm of coaching in neighboring Jackson County where John Esslinger made his indelible mark. Following graduation from Lee in 1967 and Jacksonville State University in 1971, Esslinger went to Scottsboro, serving eight years as a teacher and assistant coach in football and track. After a break from coaching in the early 1980s, Esslinger was named head track and cross country coach at Scottsboro High School in 1985, where he quickly became known as a man who would give the unlikely athlete a chance to succeed in something other than football or basketball. The results speak volumes. In 21 years as head coach of cross country and track and field at Scottsboro, Esslinger has produced 41 state championship teams nine in boys cross country from 1971 through 2008, 16 in girls cross country from 1992 through 2009 (including nine in a row from 2001-2009), five in boys indoor track (2001-2005), three in girls indoor track (2001-2003), four in boys outdoor track (2002-2005), and four in girls outdoor track from 1997 through 2003. Those teams totaled nearly 100 individual state champions. As a coach, my first state championship in 1991 was special, recalls Esslinger. My son Rob was one of the captains of that team. Among his many honors, Esslinger was named Citizen of the Year for Jackson County in 1999 and Coach of the Year for the National Federations Southern Region in 2000. He also served on the Alabama High School Athletic Associations influential Cross Country Committee from 2008-2010. Esslinger, son of Margaret Esslinger and the late Bill Esslinger, was born Oct. 2, 1949, in Little Rock, Ark. He and his family moved to Madison County in 1952. Esslinger and his wife Betty will have been married 40 years next month. Their son Rob is now a mechanical engineer at Redstone Arsenal and their other son, Tom, is a coach and teacher at Homewood High School in Birmingham.