For someone not knowing the definition of strength training, weightlifting or strength and conditioning, the misconception is that you’re wanting muscles that look like you’re a spinach-eating sailor who can lift logs fashioned into weights like on ESPN.
When looking to the past, seeing men and women who look like they’ve been chiseled out of granite is the stigma of weightlifting and that’s not necessarily incorrect.
For Kerry Brown, his approach isn’t that of bulking up. Instead, it’s developing healthy lifestyles through strength and conditioning, and transforming students into athletes, while at the same time helping them become better people along the way.
A HISTORY IN THE FIELD
A 2004 graduate from Hastings College in Nebraska, Brown has been in the world of strength and fitness since day one after graduation.
“After graduating from Hastings College with a double bachelor’s degree in exercise science and psychology, I attended South Dakota State University for grad school and got to work with two different strength and conditioning coaches during SDSU’s Division-I transition – Lee Munger and Nate Moe,” Brown said.
“After grad school I went to the University of Wyoming and had a professional internship with the Wyoming Cowboys strength and conditioning department, as well as serving as a personal trainer and strength and conditioning coach for the university’s wellness center, plus a third job as a private trainer,” Brown added. “I was there for nearly four years before finding my way back to SDSU.”
After coming back to Brookings, Brown took a position as a fitness coordinator for the SDSU wellness center and was there for nearly eight years before signing on with Avera Sports. Since June of 2018 he has been working as an outreach coach for Brookings High School, specializing in all facets of strength training and condition.
LIFTING IS NOT STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING
While lifting weights is part of strength and conditioning, Brown stresses that there is a big difference between the two.
“There’s absolutely a difference,” Brown said. “I would even broaden it out into general fitness, fitness for life and performance training.
“In a general field for healthy lifestyles and healthy lifting, there’s usually a longer term of growth. Months to years at a time where you slowly progress the weight you’re using, and it’s not looking at power and strength, it’s more rep-based with lighter free weights, dumbbells and some of the machines.
“Sports performance and strength and conditioning, you’re lifting for power, speed, strength, as well as injury prevention,” Brown said. “I feel that’s the biggest part at the high school level, trying to get the kids to where they can take a hit, run, fall and don’t get injured. While injuries aren’t 100% preventable, strength and conditioning will do a lot to help prevent injuries, improve general development and be a better athlete.”
A COMMUNITY EFFORT
Before Brookings High School’s addition several years ago to add a new weight room, two gyms and additional locker room space, the weight room at BHS was at best, a glorified garage posing as a weight room. Even after moving across the building to the new space, while serving a purpose, it was underwhelming.
With the help of the community, Brown has transformed the space into a strength and conditioning sanctuary.
“When I first arrived, a lot of the equipment didn’t have a true home in terms of usage or how to align a room based on NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association) or ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) guidelines,” Brown said. “That first summer the football players helped me rearrange the room for a better use of our space, and the next two and a half years, we’ve adjusted it several times as I’ve learned what the students were doing and how best to utilize the available space.”
It was still a lot of the same equipment, some of it showing age or not being right for its intended usage. That’s where the Brookings community stepped up.
“Working with former Activities Director Randy Soma, as well as the Bobcat Backers, we were able to do a couple fundraising activities,” Brown said. “The first was the adult prom. We had funds for new equipment already at that point, but that night the Bobcat Backers awarded the district with $10,000, which we used to buy two of the racks we have now.
“A second fundraiser earlier this year raised over $25,000, which went toward the purchase of the rest of the racks we have.”
The room now has six rack-and-a-half stations including storage space, as well as custom connecting pieces for stability.
“We’ve been very blessed with our community and what we’ve been able to do in the weight room since I first arrived,” Brown said.
The pandemic hasn’t exactly been kind to the equipment and it’s already showing signs of wear and tear.
“It’s not like there is anything wrong with our equipment,” Brown said. “With all the extra cleaning from Covid and not understanding how much we really needed to wipe everything down, we probably went a bit excessive. Which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it did take a toll on our equipment. There are some signs of rusting that, while it is still usable, makes it more difficult at times.”
NOT JUST FOR HIGH SCHOOL
With the multitude of upgrades in the weight room, one would think the old equipment was just that – old. While that might be true, it still serves a purpose.
“Some of the older equipment, I’ve kept it for our injured athletes, but also for our general population students that come in,” Brown said. “But we also share the space with physical education, and I want to make sure those students, who aren’t necessarily athletes, feel like they have a home in the weight room and that the space is safe, clean and inviting.
“Furthermore, when we have a handi-capable student come into the weight room, I want them to feel welcomed and at the same time safe when it comes to ADA guidelines,” Brown added.
This past summer, Brown opened the weight room to younger students from the middle school.
Mickelson Middle School has a new wellness facility that was just built in the past eighteen months and Brown’s involvement has brought students from the middle school to the high school weight room.
With a background in strength and conditioning and psychology, Brown’s reach is not just about strength training for the younger students.
“We had over 100 participants from the middle school this summer, mostly seventh and eighth grade, and at first I was hesitant about opening it up to students that age,” Brown said.
“But then I started getting a few students wanting to attend sessions to feel better about their self-confidence and general well-being. They come in the weight room to release some pent-up energy, to boost their self-confidence and they’re enjoying themselves. No one is forcing them to be there. That’s the kind of stuff that really takes me to a great place emotionally, that kids are here because they want to be here.”
While Brown is the first to admit he wanted to continue to work with high-end athletes like those he was exposed to at the University of Wyoming and SDSU, working with youth ultimately was his calling.
“I’ve always found joy in working with youth,” Brown said. “As much as I wanted to work with high-level athletes, working with youth helps them develop both as an athlete, but also as a person and that really resonated with me.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re an athlete or just a member of the general student population who wants to come in and train. When I see a student have an ‘ah-ha’ moment, when something clicks and they begin to enjoy strength training for their benefit, be it in athletics or not, that’s what fuels me.”
The weight room is a busy place year-round, both for students in-season in an activity, but also for those out-of-season and those attending for their own betterment.
According to Brown, students that are in an activity come in two to three times per week, depending on the practice and game schedules for their activity. For those that are out of season, typically there is three days of weight training and two days of conditioning.
Brown stresses that for out-of-season conditioning, none of it is mandatory.
“There’s no charge or activity fee so they can come or not come at their discretion,” Brown said. “The hope is that with the culture, more kids will want to be here, and the more students we see the more accepting we are, and the more progress we will see.”
The numbers of students attending sessions more than backs up the culture of wanting to be there.
Brown said that during an average season – fall, winter, and spring – over the past three years he would expect between 3,900 and 5,000 total attendees per season, with yearly totals being between 14,000 and 15,000 students.
Those numbers didn’t change much despite adjustments due to Covid. Even with spacing restrictions, Brown can have upwards of 60 students in the weight room at one time.
ESTABLISHING A CULTURE AND WINNING CHAMPIONSHIPS
The sentiment across all of Brookings High School is that Brown has changed Bobcat athletics and has it pointing in the right direction. Across all sports and activities, his training is helping Brookings students both on and off the field or court.
“Coach Brown has bought in to what we’re teaching,” Brookings head football coach Brady Clark said. “He’s a huge part of the culture we’re trying to establish.”
Bobcat volleyball coach Tina Birgen said Brown is respected by everyone at BHS.
“Coach Brown takes a ‘team approach’ by all members who walk into the Brookings High School weight training room. He provides leadership, wisdom, accountability and organization. Our team values the sacrifices he makes for all of Bobcat Athletics and our entire school.”
Brown isn’t just molding athletes; he’s developing young men and women into future leaders, both on and off the playing field and court. It’s not all about just being physically strong.
“For those that really know me well, I don’t care how much weight you put on the bars, it’s that you get better,” Brown said. “Form and technique are always going to trump how much weight is on the bar.”
Brown added that at the end of the day, establishing a culture and winning championships go hand-in-hand.
“I want to win championships and be a part of that process, but I also want to develop young people; those two things aren’t mutually exclusive,” Brown said. “In the end, if I can make an impact on just one kid, where they can become a better version of themselves, feel better about themselves and make a difference in someone else’s life because of what came from in here, then I feel we’ve truly won the day and we’re exactly where I want Bobcat Nation to be.”