WATERVILLE — Ian Wilson has accomplished a lot as head coach of the Waterville boys and girls track teams. Since becoming head coach in 1997, Wilson’s teams have routinely competed — and won — state championships.
But now that era is coming to an end.
In a meeting at the high school cafeteria Wednesday morning, Wilson told his team that he was leaving the program to take an assistant coaching job at Colby College.
Wilson will oversee the high jump, pole vault, decathlon and heptathlon with the Mules.
“I’ve wondered how I might do at the next level,” Wilson said. “It’s kind of in my nature to seek challenges so it’s been in my mind to see how I might do at the college level as a coach.
“This spring I began volunteering a bit at Colby and Coach (Jared) Beers was kind enough to welcome me and give me the opportunity to work with a few of the kids there. I discovered that I really liked it and I liked the kids there.”
Wilson added that he will continue to teach English at Waterville as well as coach the girls soccer team.
Wilson said he applied for the position in late June, interviewed two weeks later and then “accepted immediately” when the offer came soon after.
“I’ve known for a little while and have accepted it for a little while but I wanted the kids on my team to hear it from me, which they did (Wednesday) morning before I really told anybody else,” he said.
For athletes like rising senior Sarah Shoulta, the announcement generated mixed emotions.
“We all had a suspicion that it was going to happen but it wasn’t really real until it came out of his mouth,” Shoulta said. “I’m very happy for him that he’s moving on and that he’s getting to conquer his next dream.
“I’m a little upset that senior year he’s going to be leaving but it’s what he wants. I know he’s still going to be in touch with me in that he’s going to help me in the recruiting process for college and I know he’s not going to disappear forever.”
The next track coach will certainly have large shoes to fill when the position is ultimately filled though.
Wilson arrived at Waterville Senior High School as an assistant track coach in 1996 and took over as head coach the following year. During his tenure at the school he coached the Purple Panthers to 24 state championships — more than half of which had come during the outdoor season.
“The knowledge of track that guy has is unbelievable. He really knows what he’s talking about,” recent Waterville graduate Jordhan Levine said. “When he tells us to do something, it’s without a question you do it because you know he knows what he’s talking about.
“I’ve seen other track programs around the state and — not to brag — but I wouldn’t want to have anyone else be my coach. He’s been a great leader, he’s a been a great mentor and he’s a guy that you can definitely look up to.”
Levine — the 2014 Class B outdoor track champ in the 110-meter hurdles, 300 hurdles and triple jump — said Wilson’s tutelage was integral in helping him become one of the best track athletes in the state last season.
“He helped me immensely. He taught me to never give up on myself and never quit,” Levine said. “You’re going to have bad days as an athlete and the best thing that you can do is pick yourself up and move on. I don’t think I’d be where I am today without him.
“He helped me more than on the track. He helped me in school, he made sure that all my homework was done, he made sure my grades were up and made sure that I was passing. He was more than just a coach to me and it meant a lot to have someone like him in my life.”
As Wilson prepares to leave the Purple Panthers he can undoubtedly do so saying he left on top. This past academic year Waterville went 4-for-4 in indoor and outdoor track with both boys and girls teams claiming Class B championships. When asked whether he thought he achieved all he could at the high school level, Wilson said both yes and no.
“I achieved a fair amount as far as winning goes. From that respect I think I did achieve a lot at the high school level and maybe I was seeking more challenges,” he said. “The other part of coaching is the human side of it. I don’t think you ever achieve what you want to achieve when you’re working with young adults and trying to encourage them to grow and develop. There are always new challenges and there are always new kids with unique circumstances and backgrounds. Then the challenge becomes trying to help those kids improve themselves as students, athletes and members of the community.”
Now the question becomes whether or not Wilson can duplicate his success at the collegiate level. Waterville graduate Bethanie Brown — a sophomore on the Iowa State University cross country and track teams whose sister, Lauren, is going into her junior year at Waterville — says Wilson can make the transition.
“I definitely think he’ll be able to be very good at the collegiate level,” Brown said. “If you look at what he’s done in high school, Waterville track isn’t special because the kids are necessarily super special as opposed to kids from everywhere. You have kids all over Maine that are doing the same thing — you know, going out for track — but he’s really good at taking kids who may not even seem to anybody else like they would even have potential but he has the eye for what somebody is good at.
“…He can tell what they’re going to be good at and he can make them good because he knows how to perfect their form. These regular kids come out for track at any other school but he can help them be really great.”
Brown is not the only one who thinks Wilson will have success with the Mules. Colby head track coach Beers said the team was “super excited” to bring Wilson on board.
“He’s accomplished a whole heck of a lot in high school and he’s always looking for new and exciting challenges,” Beers said. “It’s been obvious to me going to many state meets over the last few years that Waterville kids were some of the best coached kids in the state.”
Wilson enters his new position — set to begin Nov. 1 — with some experience working with Colby’s athletes already under his belt, as this past spring he helped volunteer with the Mules.
“It’s not like it was a tryout, he was just wanting to get involved,” Beers said. “It was an awesome way for the kids to get to know him and for us to see what the whole experience would be really like. The whole experience was really positive.”
One of those athletes was Andrew Herwig, a decathlete from Brewster, Mass., who is heading into his junior year with the Mules. He had the opportunity to work on the high jump with Wilson during the spring.
“He was really, really talented and definitely knew what he was talking about,” Herwig said. “It seemed like he had a really strong understanding of the technique of what we were trying to accomplish and he was really good at helping us to get that out of us. I’m extremely excited to work with him.
“…He approaches training in an intellectual way which is a real cool thing in the college environment where we’re talking about physics and momentum and angles. It’s really a cool thing when you can understand conceptually how everything is supposed to work and how your body works mechanically.”
There will also be some familiar faces waiting for Wilson at Colby in former Waterville athletes Olivia Thurston and Jeff and Chris Hale. Jeff is going into his senior year with the Mules as a distance runner and steeplechase competitor, while Chris is an incoming freshman high jumper. Thurston is a rising junior hurdler and sprinter.
“I was really excited. Coach Wilson is extremely knowledgeable in track and field and is passionate about sharing his knowledge,” Chris Hale said. “I consider myself very fortunate that I’ll be able to benefit from his positive contributions in the future.”
As for the team he leaves behind, the returning athletes intend on continuing to go about their business in the same manner in which they were taught.
“It’s going to be hard but I think it’s really going to show how motivated Waterville’s athletes are to winning,” Shoulta said. “It’s going to be a good thing in the end for Wilson because he’s going to experience things he’s always wanted to experience so we have to be happy for him.
“…Wilson is such a great coach and everything that I’ve learned came from him. This year I know me, Kelly (Bolduc) and Lydia (Roy) are really going to have to step up and pass along all the knowledge that we have because now that he’s leaving it’s up to the team to work together and help the (new) coach.”
Whoever the next coach of the Waterville boys and girls track teams may be, Wilson is simply wishing them the best.
“They’re inheriting a program that has a lot of good things happening in it and will continue to have a lot of good things happen,” he said. “It’s not as though I’m leaving because I sense that the program is on the verge of collapse or anything. Exactly the opposite. it’s an outstanding program, “I’m proud to be a part of it and nothing would make me happier than to see them sustain the success that we experienced while I was there. I’d be thrilled to see them win more state titles and send more kids to college.”
Evan Crawley — 621-5640