By R. Alan Richardson
Spring has sprung. It won’t be long until the sprinters, throwers, jumpers, and distance runners of the Morgan County High School track squad will be hitting the track. In fact, their first meet is scheduled for Feb.13 at 4:30. The boys and girls varsity as well as the JV squads will be competing at the North Gwinnett Time Trials in Suwanee. There is a feeling of positivity in the wind with the addition of veteran Jim Yike joining an already talented coaching staff that includes Patrick Kicklighter. They are joined by James Ignoffo, Marvin Marthis, and Kenneth Vaughn; no strangers to the sport or to the MOCO track and field program.
Yike, the newcomer, brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the mix. The 56 year-old spent the past 32 years coaching track with stints at North Gwinnett (twice), Mill Creek, and Dacula. These programs are known for their success and much of that had to do with Yike being involved. He has also coached football, soccer, and cross-country over the years. Yike is employed as a freshman academy math teacher who has decided to come out of retirement to pursue his passion for track and teaching once again.
He said, “I just love it. Track is a sport where you’re focused on self-improvement. You never focus on the other person. Everything is centered around you and your event or race.” The self-described thrower’s coach (shot put and discus) continued, “I’ve been blessed to work with some really good athletes.” Several of his throwers secured spots in the State Championships in 2019 with one winning the 7-A shot put and another female finishing in the top five of the same event. He also had a distance runner who broke a 20-year record in Gwinnett County. His past also includes coaching a two-time Olympic hammer thrower. Let’s just say he knows his stuff and will be a welcome addition to our already strong coaching staff at MCHS.
Asked why he decided to come out of retirement, he told us, “I went back because I missed the camaraderie, the kids, and the sport itself. I also really missed teaching math. Teaching the reasoning and logic part is what the job is all about. Track can do so many things for kids. It helps develop self-confidence. I want it to be meaningful and when they look back at what they’ve accomplished, they’ll look back with pride.”
This year’s team looks to be as strong as ever with several athletes returning that placed in the top 10 in the state. Some names to remember include Seth Robertson in the long and triple jump, Calab Williams in the 110 hurdles, Donald Brooks in the high jump, Tiana Wade in the jumps, Damien Walker in the high jump, Derrick Reid in the 300 hurdles, Quinton Proby in the 110 hurdles, Tiana Adams in the discus, Breanna Clark in the 800 meters, and freshmen distance runners Ella Ryan Cottrell, Drew Biersmith, and Rhett Spinks. According to Kicklighter, this group of athletes will lead this year’s team on and off the field. He said, “I am incredibly excited for what this year holds for track and field. The kids are primed and positive. I haven’t seen a group so ready to attack the season like this in a long time. We are really fortunate to have a solid group of veterans to lead us this year. They have really stepped up and it is really cool to see them not only lead by example, but really work with all our new athletes. We just have such a well-rounded group of young people this year and it is such a pleasure to spend my afternoons with them.”
Kicklighter continued by discussing the staff, “We also have an amazing staff of coaches this season. Jim Yike joining us has been such a positive. He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience with him and is doing wonders with our throwers. James Ignaffo is returning as our jumps and hurdle expert. It is incredible how meticulous and knowledgeable he is with his craft. He spends a good extra hour with the kids who want more specialization AFTER practice. He is very devoted to them and they to him. Kenneth Vaugh brings years of coaching experience too as our other assistant coach. He is that kind of coach that is great at bringing joy, positivity and fun to the long days of practice. Marvin Mathis is pulling double duty with middle school and working with our sprinters. This man has already created an incredible middle school program that we are reaping the benefits from this season. I am working with the distance kids and am just lucky to have such a hard-working and kind group to go for runs with.”
Moving back to Yike, his enthusiasm is obvious when you sit down and talk with him. It’s contagious. “I love it here in Morgan County and at this school. I grew up in a small town high school with about 100 seniors in our graduating class. It reminds me of that. Coming from Gwinnett County, that’s different. What will also be different is the type of travel we have as we are unable right now to host any home meets. It’s just not feasible right now. These kids have really bought in and are working hard. They do everything we ask.” His throwers include a “great group” of young talent with three or four kids vying to see who comes out of the pack, according to Yike. “It’s exciting to see that it is that competitive,” he commented. “We want to develop a group of elite throwers that we call ‘MOCO Thrower Nation.”
The squad is also bringing along some talented sprinters. Tre Hawkins was the State Middle School Champion in the 100 meters. It seems to be a mixture of the old and the new. The schedule will be challenging, according to the Duluth High School graduate. “The purpose is to get ready for Region. That’s the only thing that matters. It’s where you get to extend your season. I can’t say enough about the entire coaching staff. Even PT (Coach Pam Turner) comes out to practices to lend a hand with our throwers. She’s just a great all-around person and an outstanding coach with tons of experience in several sports.”
Yike is married to Michelle Yike for the past three years and they have four children either in the workforce or attending college.
Welcome aboard Coach Yike and good luck to all the coaches and athletes this season.