A 1980 graduate of Nevada High School was recently honored in a big way.


Jamie Heintz, 57, of Wichita, Kan., where he has taught and coached for 31 years, now has a track named after him.


The Wilbur Middle School track is now called, “Jamie Heintz Track and Field.” It’s an honor that came as a total surprise to a man who’s coached cross country and track and field at the school for 31 years, and helped them win 28 championships.


“They surprised me during an in-service day and even snuck my family in to be a part of the celebration,” Heintz said. “It was the day after my family had come in for Easter. I thought they had gone back to Kansas City, but they just went to a hotel for the night. My oldest daughter flew up from Fort Worth. It was all very special, unexpected and humbling.”


Heintz’s family includes his wife Carla Fulton, his high school sweetheart back at Nevada High School, and their three children, Courtney, 32; C.J., 28; and Bethany, 24.


Going into teaching was the right choice for Heintz, who attended Iowa State right after high school, graduating with a degree in journalism and teaching certificates in 7-12 math and journalism. He notes that he has sometimes had to be creative in selling himself for positions. “One of the greatest challenges I’ve had to overcome is being a math teacher with a journalism degree. I had to sell my abilities to employers when my training wasn’t specifically for that job,” he said. He added, “Luckily, I landed the jobs I sought and then settled into my current location and stayed for decades.”


Heintz is the site technology specialist at Wilbur Middle School, where there are 850 students in grades six through eight. “I am in charge of maintaining all the technology, as well as training teachers how to use it effectively. We currently have over 900 computers and/or Chromebooks,” he said.


What he loves most about his work is connecting with students and athletes. “There’s something special about knowing you are making a difference in these kids’ lives. When a former student comes up to you in the mall, it’s an indication that they remember you fondly. That doesn’t happen unless they know you cared,” he said. But — it happens often to Heintz — so often in fact that his youngest daughter once commented, “Dad, you’re famous.”


Famous to his former students and athletes, for sure. “These connections and reminders are what drive me,” he said.


Heintz and Fulton were married right after he graduated from college. “I taught one year at New Market High School in New Market, Iowa.”


Then the Heintzes moved back to central Iowa and he taught three years of math at nearby Collins-Maxwell High School while Carla finished her degree at Iowa State. At Collins-Maxwell, he coached track and field and was an assistant girls’ basketball and volleyball coach. He was also the yearbook sponsor.


“When Carla graduated, we moved to Wichita, Kan., where we were both offered teaching jobs,” he said. Carla is currently the principal at the Shawnee Mission Early Childhood Center.


When Heintz — who likes to spend his free time bicycling, going to movies and playing board games — thinks back to growing up in Nevada (where he grew up for all but two years, minus second and third grades when his family lived in Ankeny), he said he has a lot of fond memories.


“I lived in a neighborhood full of kids close to my age. We played a lot of baseball, cougar, elimination and other games. We even held our own Olympics, using picnic table benches as hurdles. I remember spending a lot of time at the Sports Bowl. I bowled in leagues for eight years. And, of course, there’s the ‘Pranksters.’ We were a group formed from the high school cross country team. We enjoyed playing practical jokes on each other and just kidding around. When your sport is just running, you have to create other ways to entertain yourself.”


When asked if any educators in Nevada influenced his career decision, he said the strongest influence was Bill Schneider. “I remember sitting on the bus on the way back from track meets just talking to him. He gave me the advice that I followed, ‘Don’t become a teacher. And if you do, marry a teacher.’”


Coach Larry Parker was also a strong influence, he noted. “He coached me in track and cross country.”


Nevada had a lot of strong educators who had an impact on Heintz. “I was motivated to be a teacher by many of the good teachers I had as well; Mr. Grimm, Mr. Peck, Mr. Jacobsen, Mr. Anderson, Mr. Phillips, Mr. Argotsinger, to name a few.”


There were also community members, like John Johnson, the owner of Sports Bowl, who were important to him. “Our senior year, he sponsored our team to bowl in the state high school tournament when the school wouldn’t,” Heintz recalled.


Heintz said growing up in Nevada taught him, most of all, that community is important. “I was fortunate to grow up surrounded by adults who truly cared for me. Whether that was my parents, aunts and uncles, neighbors or teachers and coaches, it’s important to know that you are valued and you have people around you who will help you. I think that’s what I’ve tried to impart to students in my classes. That they are each important and that we adults are here to help them.”


He and his wife don’t get back to Nevada very often, but they still have many relatives in the Nevada area.


Currently, their attention is focused on a big change. “I am currently in a situation where I qualify for an early retirement program and need to ‘retire’ from my current position to claim it. I plan to continue teaching, but have to teach in a private school or public school in another state.”


Heintz said he can’t quit teaching. After 35 years of it, he’s said he’s in it for the long haul. “We are currently looking at options to make that (ability to keep teaching) happen.”