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Shady Side Academy’s Gilkes named coach of year at State College

Marty Stewart
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Shady Side Academy grad Artie Gilkes (front, middle) celebrates with members of his State College track team after winning a state championship in May 2019.

Artie Gilkes, a 1993 Shady Side Academy graduate and current track coach at State College, recently was named PTFCA Indoor Track High School Coach of the Year. While at SSA, he participated in cross country, wrestling and track.

“I loved being on the teams. Spending time with my teammates and coaches are the fondest memories,” Gilkes said. “The day-to-day shared struggle with teammates is something I really cherish. I just loved the action of it all. I was really lucky to go to SSA, and I had incredible teammates. Through sports at SSA, I was able to not just find an outlet but was also encouraged to demonstrate a level of competitive aggression that really gave me a boost in confidence.

“Recently, I really enjoyed getting to see SSA’s Melissa Riggins win a state championship in track. I had the same math teacher, Sue Whitney, my last two years of high school. She was also one of the cross country and track coaches. I still talk to her and seek her advice. Her husband is a phenomenal coach, too. After we won the PIAA meet last spring, she was one of the first people to shoot me a message. She’s still a major influence on my coaching. My wrestling coach, Tim Giel, is now the AD at Avonworth. I got to spend some time with him watching his wrestlers at a Christmas tournament a few years ago. I haven’t had a chance to go back to SSA in many many years.“

After high school, Gilkes enrolled at Penn State.

He had some health issues while at SSA, but while at PSU, he suffered setbacks that impacted his athletic career.

“I thought I’d had a big breakthrough my freshman year at PSU, though,” he said. “My college coach, Harry Groves, was great about getting blood work done. I stepped foot on campus freshman year, and he had my iron checked and a few other things. There were some red flags, and it helped get me on the right course and I had a reasonably productive freshman year. After the Big Ten Championships that spring, I just couldn’t recover. I kept getting sicker. So my dad took me to the ER after I just collapsed while training back at home. I was immediately hospitalized and diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.”

It was a splash of cold water for the young Gilkes.

“I was 18 years old and ready to go train at the Olympic Training Center, and I was about to spend the next 10 days in the hospital. Coach Groves called me multiple times a day and talked to my doctors very regularly. My high school coaches all came in to see me. Coach Groves and my Penn State teammates were super positive and in some cases pretty demonstrative with telling me I needed to be back ASAP. We had a good team, and I had a job to do. We were all pretty close and pretty hard-nosed, and I just wanted to get back in the mix with the boys.

“My folks could turn everything into a positive, too. I had a few more health struggles after that, and they would always challenge my resolve by asking me what I was going to do about it. They always used the phrase, ‘adapt or die.’ When I was younger, I thought it was a tough break, even though I still went to the OTC and the team was even better than before and I was running better. I still felt it hurt me. But looking back, I can see how lucky I was. My SSA coaches supported me. … There really wasn’t a choice of what to do. It was just a matter of getting back at it.”

Gilkes has been coaching cross country at State College since fall 2012 but didn’t start with the track team until November 2013.

“I was named head coach in June of 2018. I primarily coach the jumpers, both boys and girls,” he said. “State College has a great reputation for track success. The jumpers after 2013 took it to a new level. I’m pretty proud of them winning 42 state medals, including five gold medals since 2014. I’m really proud of those kids for their commitment to the craft.”

Despite his health issues, Gilkes continues to run.

“I’ll never stop running. … I have several running challenges I hold myself to every year. A big part of my coaching process is being able to do the stuff the team is doing.”

Gilkes said he did not expect to win the award.

“I was surprised and humbled to win,” he said. “I wasn’t surprised the team won the PIAA title but was surprised and honored to win the PTFCA Coach of the Year. This was a pretty tumultuous year. The team had so many setbacks. But the kids and coaches just kept at it. These kids wanted to win the state title pretty bad. They wanted to win indoor states and outdoor states. As a coaching staff, we just kept it real and reminded them to get to point ‘Z,’ you gotta go through steps ‘A-Y.’ The award is really recognition of an entire program. We have great assistant coaches. I mean, these people are just the best. The coaching staff actually received recognition being named ‘Five Rings Award’ recipients this year for their efforts.”

Gilkes hopes to continue leading the State College team.

“I’m not sure how long I’ll be coaching,” he said. “At this point, I don’t have any plans to stop. My wife, who was a world class athlete/professional track and field runner and a significantly better coach than I am, is also a coach at State College. We coach together, and I think that makes for a good team. Also, our coaching staff is really incredible. Some of these coaches I’ve known for 20-25 years. We all really have a good time together. I have so much to learn yet, and I’m still getting feedback from my SSA coaches. I can’t tell you how many times I am asking Coach Whitney questions.”

Marty Stewart is a freelance writer.

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