Over the last five years, Desmond Dunham has presided over Wilson’s running teams, building a program that dominated the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association and competed successfully with private schools.
Notably, Dunham’s tenure saw several D.C. State Athletic Association championship wins — including a sweep of the boys and girls track and field state titles last spring.
Meanwhile, the running program at St. John’s has been competitive in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference and recently had its first D.C. Gatorade track and field athlete of the year. Hoping to build on that momentum, St. John’s hired Dunham to take over the running program at the Chevy Chase school.
“I’m ecstatic to be on the staff at St. John’s and to enter such a distinguished conference like the WCAC,” said Dunham, who began his new position on June 28. “It’s something new and exhilarating at the same time. I’m just looking forward to a new challenge and to developing an even more competitive program at St. John’s.”
He brings nearly 20 years of coaching experience to the Cadets, along with a passion for the sport.
Dunham, who earned his undergraduate degree in exercise physiology at Howard University and a master’s degree in education at Trinity Washington University, is extensively involved in the local running community. He is a consultant for Pacers Running and serves as the group’s high school coordinator, DCXC meet director and high school events coordinator. In those roles he helps select the All-Run Washington pre- and post-season cross-country high school runners in the D.C. area.
Dunham also operates the Kids Elite Sports organization, which provides developmental sports, fitness and enrichment programs to help children live healthy and active lifestyles.
As coach, Dunham started with youth running, soon taking over the D.C. Redwings youth program, which has produced more than 100 Junior Olympic All-American runners. Dunham also coached at Maryland’s Eleanor Roosevelt High School and guided the team to a trio of gold medals at the Penn Relays. His team also set two national records and captured one boys and three girls cross-country state titles.
After spending time at the high school level, Dunham moved to the University of Maryland in 2008 to serve as the head cross-country coach and the distance track and field coach, where he helped revive a Terps program that hadn’t produced an All-ACC or NCAA nationals qualifier in women’s cross-country in more than 16 years.
Most recently, Dunham led the Wilson running programs, which dominated the DCIAA during his five-year tenure. Dunham’s teams won 10 boys and girls DCIAA city cross-country championships; eight boys and girls DCIAA indoor city track and field championships; seven boys and girls DCIAA outdoor city track and field championships; two girls DCSAA indoor state championships; two girls DCSAA outdoor state championships; and one boys DCSAA outdoor state championship.
While the championship victories grabbed the glitzy headlines, Dunham’s work to create those opportunities and those teams was where the true magic was. When he arrived at the Tenleytown school, the running program was raggedy. The coach said there were a handful of passionate athletes, but the majority treated it as social time and were inconsistent showing up to practices.
“Wilson was one of the most challenging coaching positions I’ve had in my coaching career,” Dunham said. “The culture for track had left. We basically had 11 runners on the team, and they were committed. There was a fight to develop the culture overall and to get our athletes to be committed and competitive with private schools, regional level schools and other prominent public schools.”
During his time at Wilson, Dunham won a slew of accolades, including the Brooks Inspiring Coaches National Award in 2014 and the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association D.C. girls coach of the year in 2015 and 2016.
After five years of cultivating the program, Dunham completely revamped the team. “It took a little bit of time to get the culture we wanted,” Dunham said. “Fast-forward and we have over 100-plus runners on the team and quite a few garnering track and field scholarship money each year. It was one of the most challenging coaching positions I’ve had, but equally rewarding.”
After building a public school powerhouse that earned every accolade it could, Dunham was ready to accept the new challenge of St. John’s.
“First and foremost, I don’t ever want to lose sight of the reason I decided to coach track and field — I wanted to continue to touch and change lives through the sport,” said Dunham. “We will use that platform and a family atmosphere as a way to develop a work ethic and character, while building a championship program. We’re looking to be even more competitive in the WCAC and being equally competitive on the national level.”
While Dunham is stepping away from Wilson as the team’s coach, he feels he has left it in a good place with Tia Clemmons — who served as a co-head coach with him last year — taking over the Tigers running programs.
“Moving from Wilson has been a lot of mixed emotions with all of the relationships I have developed over time,” he said. “At the same time, I do feel like they’re in great hands with Coach Tia. This is just a great opportunity that I couldn’t pass up with the direction St. John’s is heading in and their interest level with having me on board.”
Since taking over at St. John’s, athletes at the Chevy Chase school have already approached him, expressing their enthusiasm about the sport and running for him.
“There’s a good cluster of runners that have previous experience that is looking to become even more competitive,” said Dunham. “The other benefit of the St. John’s student population is a lot of athletes from other sports realize the benefits of track and field and that it can make them stronger and faster in their primary sports. Between a handful of athletes having prior track experience and a very driven bunch of student-athletes looking to excel in their primary sports, I’m really excited to get to work.”