WASHINGTON — There are many expressions that use the word heart to convey a message. The heart is often equated to the amount of love one has.
Collin Stark has his heart in the game of basketball, despite the fact that the crucial organ derailed his basketball playing career. Surgery was not able to help and he had to funnel his passion for the game into coaching.
Stark’s heart is still in the game as the head coach for the Washington Demons.
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Stark led the Demons to the Southeast Conference championship this past season, its first league title in 13 years. When the body gets tired, the heart says this is the time champions are made.
“As a coach, winning the first conference championship in 13 years has been my most memorable moment,” Stark said. “The environment was the loudest that I had heard in the gym since I’ve been at Washington.”
A successful team beats with one heart. The players capitalized on that opportunity to play for a championship and pulled out the win in overtime at home against Keokuk.
“The win against Keokuk at home to seal the championship was the most enjoyable game to coach,” Stark said.
Overtime games are not for the faint of heart.
“I look forward to many more great environments and big games in the future,” Stark said.
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The past has provided Stark great moments playing the game when his team qualified for the state tournament during his freshman year of high school.
“Playing at Wells Fargo is definitely worth all the time and effort put in by the players in the offseason and during practices in the regular season,” Stark said of playing for North Butler High School in Greene.
Stark played basketball and football for three years, cross-country for a year, track for two years, and golf for two years in high school. He was an all-district academic choice in football as a senior and a recipient of the Bernie Saggau Award, was involved in National Honor Society, student council, band, choir, jazz band and select choir.
“I was an all-conference player in basketball, golf, cross-country and track,” he said. “I was all-area in basketball.”
An athlete must play with hope in his heart and dreams in his head. He had his heart set on a return to state, and the basketball team was ranked No. 1 before injuries hurt its chances at making state his sophomore year.
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He played basketball at Simpson College as a 6-foot-3, 195-pound forward for two years before physical problems led to the diagnosis of heart problems.
“While I was at Simpson, I was having issues with being able to finish workouts and when I would be at practice, I would start to get lightheaded and feel like I was about to faint,” Stark said.
He did end up fainting a few times, so the Simpson College athletic trainers sent him to the Iowa Health doctors in Des Moines to get it checked out.
“They found that as my heart rate increased, it would get above 200 beats per minute and would keep rising during exercise until I started getting lightheaded,” Stark said. “They tried to have a heart scope surgery to burn off non-firing electrodes to see if that would help.”
This surgery is very well known and has helped numerous athletes to continue to play afterward. Stark’s surgery was unsuccessful in fixing his heart condition. Doctors presented Stark with options at that point: try to continue to play, try the surgery again, or end playing competitively.
“I was not able to play at the level I felt like I could, so I decided to hang it up and an assistant coaching position at Newton opened up to work under a past teammate at Simpson, Brandon Sharp,” Stark said.
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Although his heart sank, a new opportunity presented itself. Stark coached girls basketball for a year at BCLUW before coming to Washington to be an assistant coach under Coach Bryce Smeins for a year.
“I feel fortunate to get to take over after Coach Smeins four years ago,” said Stark, who currently has a 42-64 overall record, 36-47 for the Demons after going 14-7 this past season.
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Stark majored in Elementary Education with an endorsement in math and algebra. He chose to become a teacher and a coach because he has a passion for helping students and players to achieve their goals. One should always follow one’s heart.
“I like challenging them to get out of their comfort zones, and be the positive male role model for them,” Stark said. “There have been past experiences and mentors that have given me great experiences with school and sports. Those experiences, whether positive or negative have shaped who I am as a teacher and coach.”
Basketball was always his favorite sport from a very young age so he followed his heart.
“I have a lot of great mentors and experiences in the sport,” Stark said. “A few of those experiences have given me drive as a coach to not allow my players to become complacent, and to create a family environment.”
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Stark has a possible condition called Neurally Mediated Syncope, which is very similar to Atrial Fibrillation.
“I have to keep my heart rate with a watch when I work out to make sure that my heart rate doesn’t get too high,” he said. “I have hopes of getting back into better health, so that I could play pickup basketball with the players again, but for now, I am not able to play.”
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Stark said that sports give players experiences that teach them life lessons about working hard, teamwork, mastering a role, discipline for a job, fitting in at the workplace and how to face adversity.
“My favorite part about coaching is the relationships that I create with my players and their families,” Stark said. “It’s a lot of fun going into battle with my players at practice and in games, seeing that one percent improvement each day.”
Those beliefs are of someone with a big heart, a heart of gold.
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One sport that doesn’t stress the beats per minute of the heart can be golf. The sport is also dear to Stark’s heart. He was an assistant on the Demons team that went to state in 2018 and took over as head coach for 2019.
“Golf is also a favorite sport of mine to play,” Stark said. “I have a passion for the mental side of the sport of golf to go along with the swing mechanics.”
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Whatever one does, they should do it with all their heart.
“I’ve enjoyed the great times with our players, which includes our celebration circles after wins and losses, but have felt the pain with our players on tough losses,” Stark said. “I wouldn’t change anything that we have experienced the past four years that has shaped this program into what it has become today.”
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Leonardo da Vinci said tears come from the heart.
“My least favorite part of coaching would be losing a game and seeing the disappointment in our players,” Stark said. “Our players have put a lot of work to change our program around. There was a lot of close losses the past couple years but all of those losses were worth it with the conference championship that was earned this year.”
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Washington was 9-10 the previous year, 6-14 in Stark’s second year and 7-14 in his first year. The Demons were 7-16 in the year before Stark became head coach. The Demons can take heart that the program is headed in the right direction.
“The future at Washington is very bright and we are not satisfied with just one conference championship,” Stark said. “I want to thank the seniors for all their hard work these past four years and look forward to getting back to work for next year.”
His heart is definitely in the right place.