For 24 years, coach Tom Rutledge was the head men’s cross country, track and field coach at Missouri Southern State University. He became the head cross country coach in 1989 when Missouri Southern established the men’s and women’s teams. He led the Lions to eight MIAA cross country championships (2000-2003, 2005-2007, 2009) and two MIAA Indoor Track and Field championships (2004, 2007).
His MSSU cross country team made 11 team appearances during a 13 year period at the NCAA Division II Championships with every one of the 11 finishing in the top 20. Three of his team’s finished in the top ten. The 2000 tam gained a sixth place finish in the nation. The 2002 team earned seventh place ranking and the 2012 team finished the year in eighth place.
For his outstanding coaching efforts, Rutledge was named the MIAA Men’s Cross Country Coach of the Year in 2000, 2002, 203, 2007, and 2009. He received two Indoor Coach of the Year awards in 2004 and 2007. Rutledge was further honored as the South Central Region Indoor Track and Field Coach of the year in 1999, 2004, and 2007. Coach Rutledge was inducted as a member of the MSSU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2008. In 2013, Rutledge became a member of the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame as he was recognized as a one of the state’s ever to coach cross country, track and field.
Coach Rutledge has mentored four National Champions, eight cross Country All-American and 55 All-Americans in track and field with several of them achieving multiple All-American honors. His student college athletes have also excelled in the classroom, with many receiving academic awards on both the conference and national levels.
In 2005, the Southern pole-vaulters took the top five positions in the NCAA Outdoor National Championships, which is an extremely rare accomplishment for one school. During the spring and summer of 2000 he coached Tongula Givens Steddum, a former Missouri Southern national champion in the triple jump, as she made her bid for the United States Olympic Team.
With a full resume of coaching awards, outstanding student athletes and teams, his proudest accomplishment was bringing cross country and track and field to Southwest Missouri on grand scale. By designing an outdoor cross country course on the Missouri Southern campus, Coach Rutledge has been able to bing five national cross country championships (AAU and NCAA) as well as seven regional cross country championship to Joplin. The annual cross country Southern Stampede brings over 2,000 athletes to Southwest Missouri. It has become one of the largest cross country meets in the nation. Through the years, the weekend long Southern Stampede has stimulated the local economy by generating millions of dollars through hotel room sales, restaurant receipts and tourist amenities.
In 2013, Coach Rutledge retired from Missouri Southern State University as the head coach of the cross country, track and field teams. He recalled the humble beginnings of the program in 1989, starting from scratch with zero scholarships to give. Today, the program is respected, accomplished and acknowledged as one of the nation’s best thanks to the dedication, energy and passion of Tom Rutledge.