When it came to Princeton High School track and field and cross country teams for parts of four decades, there was one name synonymous to them all — Gary Coates. He spent 24 years coaching boys’ cross country at Princeton High School and another 17 more split between the boys’ and girls’ teams.
On Jan. 12, he will take his place in the Illinois Track and Cross Country Coaches Hall of Fame. I can’t think of a coach more deserving than Gary Coates. I only have one question: what took it so long?
Neither can Bureau Valley coach Dale Donner, who nominated Coates for the honor. He said it’s because of Coates that track and cross country are so strong in our area, noting Coates has stayed in the loop since he’s retired and was always willing to help area track coaches in any way,
“It is good to see Gary finally get in the Hall of Fame. He is very well deserving of this honor,” Donner said. “When I first moved to the area, Gary was the main guy behind both track and field and cross country. He helped promote our sport with the youth in the county holding meets and always being energetic about running.
“He would always take time to talk and had a genuine interest in what we were talking about. It did not matter that we were competition, he always had great advice and loves to talk the sport with anyone who has questions. I have a lot of respect and admiration for Gary. He did things the right way.”
Coates, who retired from teaching in 2002 and serves on the PHS school board, said he is deeply honored to be inducted into the ITCCC Hall of Fame. He said he is especially grateful to his assistant coaches, Mark Tachi and Bruce Anderson, who went on to become head coaches.
“One doesn’t achieve such an honor by oneself. I have plenty of people who contributed to my success as a coach,” said Coates, who was hired by and assigned coaching assignments by PHS superintendent Roger Swan in 1968. “First, my wife Bea and our two children, Nicole and Ryan, who helped plenty in supporting me and in helping conduct many of the meets. Over the years, I have been blessed with loyal and competent assistant coaches and outstanding athletes. I will be accepting this honor on behalf of all of these people.”
He said he probably learned most about coaching from Bob Keck, his track coach at Illinois Wesleyan University.
Gary Coates didn’t just coach, he built winning teams and traditions.
In cross country, Coates’ Tigers raced to back-to-back state runner-up finishes in 1979 and ‘80 in Class A of a two-class system and placed fourth in 1984. They also won five NCIC championships in a 12-team league, nine regional championships and three sectional titles.
His Tiger track teams won four sectionals with a third-place finish at state in 1981. The Tigers also made off with the NCIC championship in 1975.
He moved over to girls’ track from 1986-94, winning five sectional championships, capped by a fourth-place finish at state in 1990 and seventh in ‘94.
The PHS coach was a trend-setter in the industry, conducing the first all-metric track and field meet in Illinois in 1976 along with the help of his brothers, Michael and Davis, and his wife.
He has also served on the IHSA Track and Field Advisory Board as well as a volunteer official at the IHSA state track meets and at the IESA state track meets.
The Hall of Fame ceremony will take place Jan. 12 at Oak Park-River Forest High School.
• My condolences to the family of Mark Hudson, a former Princeton Tigers (Class of ‘85), who passed away Tuesday at much too early age.
Kevin Hieronymus is the BCR Sports Editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org