Back in the day it was a staple of stability and success.
Each spring, when Greenville High’s track & field program hosted its season-ending awards/recognition banquet each table was adorned with its own District 10 championship trophy. Though memory becomes sketchy, it almost seemed as though there were as many, if not more, trophies than there were tables at the annual fete in the school’s cafeteria.
One of the last links to that success is calling it a day. At the recent Mercer County Invitational, Mark Hayes said he is retiring at the conclusion of this academic year. That’s a career including 37 years teaching (primarily 7th-grade social studies, though he taught every grade level), 37 seasons as an assistant football coach, and 33 years as, first an assistant, then as head track & field coach.
“ ... I was a baseball coach before that ... “ a chuckling Hayes said, before relating,
“I’ve just really enjoyed this. It’s been a wonderful opportunity. The countless number of kids and athletes that I’ve been able to work with ... I feel really blessed. I enjoyed the teaching, too. I still enjoy the kids. So it’s been just a wonderful experience for me,” he emphasized with standing on Grove City High’s Forker Field.
At Greenville, Hayes had the opportunity to intern under some of the most successful coaches in Mercer County athletic annals – Bob Stone and John Kokoski. When Stone retired as Greenville’s gridiron coach he was then the winningest in the area (222-75-6, spanning 29 seasons, including 4 District 10 titles and 2 statewide FInal Four berths), while Kokoski constructed a program that saw his cindermen secure 78 consecutive dual-meet wins and the 1983 PIAA Class AA crown.
Hayes had a great mentor in Gary Hull, who served as an assistant in both football and track. Pre laptops and I-phones, Hull’s paperwork for his track athletes brought to mind Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener. But specifically in the sport of football, Hull, who played for Joe Paterno at Penn State “ ... took my under his wing and I ended up learning the defensive side of things from him, and what a great mentor he was – probably one of the best that I could rub shoulders with,” Hayes related. “Bob Stone, I worked with him ‘cause I coached the (offensive) line for many years ... but Gary taught me about runnin’ defenses.
“I just acquired a lot of knowledge from some very experienced men, and that was something. I look back on that now and, boy, those were some fun years!” Hayes recalled, a smile creasing his face. “Oh, my! And we were very successful back then. It was easy to get motivated, to want to continue that.”
A few years ago Hayes hurdled a health scare – he’s fine now – but admitted, “Longevity is not something you see too much of anymore. ... I’m just slowin’ down; don’t have quite the energy I used to have, and the kids need just tremendous energy and motivation, and I don’t want to short-change them.
“I don’t feel as though I can continue to be the head coach, ‘cause I’m not gonna be in the school, and I need contact with the kids,” Hayes continued. “And I don’t know who they’re gonna hire as a head coach ... there’s not a line at the door sayin’ they want to do that.
“So I’ll let some young kid come in here and, hopefully, he’ll have the same passion and drive and just keep it goin’” Hayes added. “Now in football (led by Head Coach Brian Herrick, who competed for both Stone and Kokoski during his Trojans’ tenure) we’ve got some young kids (assistant coaches) comin’ through ... but track, I don’t know. If they want me to hang around, that’s one thing. At Greenville, the head coach gets to pick their assistants, so we’ll see whether they want me to ‘hang’ or not,” Hayes related, ultimately admitting,
“They’ll be parts of it that I’ll miss, yeah.”
• As successful as Greenville’s program was, Hickory High’s has taken the baton, so to speak. Both the boys and girls programs have won recent state championships – the ladies, a pair – and have become perennial PIAA Championships contenders.
And with the wealth of talent Hickory has already, add Aniyah Anderson. At the recent Mercer County Invite, Anderson annexed a sweep of the high and intermediate hurdles. And though she readily admitted she does not enjoy competing in the intermediates, Anderson is improving in the highs almost every time she steps onto the track.
“No-o-o-o, I do not like the three-hundreds,” she said with a wan smile, quickly brightening, “but I love the hundred hurdles!
“When I first came here I could barely break a seventeen (seconds), and now I’m in the low fifteens, so I think I’m making a lot of progress,” Anderson explained, relating, “If I could, by states, make a fourteen, that would be my goal. But if not by the end of this year, by the beginning of next year.
“To qualify (for the PIAA Championships) would be just a major goal and a victory,” the personable Anderson added. “To see the progress, just from one year, really pushes me to keep going.”
ED FARRELL is assistant sports editor for The Herald. E-mail him at email@example.com.