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The Gazette KCRG
Posted December 8, 2011
Wilkinson ‘had a passion for girls’ athletics’

Harold Wilkinson cheers on one of his Solon High School runners during the Wilkinson Relays at Kingston Stadium in 2006. Wilkinson died Thursday at age 74. (Gazette file photo)


CEDAR RAPIDS — Ask those who knew Harold Wilkinson best, and a common theme emerges quickly.

Wilkinson loved coaching. But not as much as he loved those he coached.

“He was the epitome of what a coach should be,” said Aaron Stecker, athletics director at Cedar Rapids Kennedy. “I watched the way he interacted with the girls the past couple years. You could tell they loved him.”

Wilkinson, who helped build girls’ track programs at Belle Plaine, Kennedy and Solon into state powers, died Thursday after a long battle with pulmonary fibrosis. He was 74.

“I’m trying to absorb the loss,” said Cedar Rapids Jefferson girls’ track coach Bill Calloway. “He was a prince of a fellow. He was one of the great people in coaching, and it went far beyond his record.”

“I don’t think you could find a better person than Wilk,” said longtime Kennedy baseball coach and teacher Bill Herkelman. “Always upbeat. Just someone that was special.”

Memorial services will be at 10:30 a.m. on Monday at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church. Memorial visitation will be 3-7 p.m. Sunday at the Cedar Memorial Park Funeral Home.

Wilkinson coached the Belle Plaine girls to three consecutive state titles from 1964 through 1966, then coached 24 seasons at Kennedy (1971-94).

Kennedy’s home meet was renamed the Wilkinson Relays upon his retirement.

The glory days at Kennedy hit from 1977 through 1982, a six-year span in which the Cougars were state runners-up twice and placed third three times.

Wilkinson coached girls’ basketball at Kennedy from 1972 through ’82, compiling a 181-74 record. The 1976-77 team finished 29-2 and reached the state final before losing 51-48 to Southeast Polk.

The Cougars returned to state in 1978.

He also was Kennedy’s coach in girls’ cross country (1981-82, 1986-95) and boys’ cross country (1971-72, 1986-95).

Wilkinson’s legacy went far beyond the years and the win-loss records. Herkelman said Wilkinson would send Kennedy athletes little notes after their seasons to congratulate them on what they had accomplished.

“He was just the best guy, a tremendous person,” said an emotional Michelle Goodall, a 1985 Kennedy graduate and now the school’s varsity volleyball coach. “He’s one of my coaching models. Everybody held him in such high esteem.”

After retiring at Kennedy, Wilkinson spent the 2000 and 2001 seasons as the head track coach at Solon, then continued on as an assistant.

“I just feel privileged to get to work with these kids,” Wilkinson said in 2006. “I don’t know how much help I am any more, but I enjoy going to practice every day.”

The Lady Spartans were 2A state co-champions in 2010, then took third in 3A last spring.

“He’s a person that definitely had a passion for girls’ athletics,” said Solon head girls’ track coach Brent Sands. “You could really tell how much he cared about kids.”

Wilkinson is survived by his wife Peg, two sons Mike and Blake, a daughter Codi, his mother Alois, sister Jan and bother Dean, as well as four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

He graduated from Mound City (Mo.) High School and Northwest Missouri State University.

16 Responses to Wilkinson ‘had a passion for girls’ athletics’

  1. Something else he did…he always took time to tell athletes from other teams that they were doing a good job. On at least 3 different occasions last year he congratulated my daughter and told her she was using her talents well. He also told her congratulations on being named Best of her Class by KWWL. He paid attention to a LOT of things. This is a great loss to athletics in Eastern Iowa. My sympathies to his family, friends, and all his “kids”.

  2. Harold Wilkinson will always represent the epitome of what a coach and teacher should strive to become. He was the classiest man I have ever known. Wilk would write notes everyday to students at Kennedy congratulating them on their accomplishments in the classroom, on the field, on the court, or on the stage. It didn’t matter how well he knew them, he made them feel important. Even this fall he still wrote me notes congratulating me on the success of the teams I coach. It was a privilege to have taught and coached with Wilk. He was my mentor. May God bless his family for having shared Wilk with all of us!

  3. My husbands and my oldest sons coach :) The best man and coach you ever wanted to meet! RIP Coach Wilkinson from The Big Mac Family! May your family find peace and comfort with the outpouring of love and kind words for you! <3 Hugs <3

  4. Wilk was a wonderful coach and teacher. He genuinely cared about all of his students and their lives. I played volleyball at JFK in the mid-80s and Wilk was at every game cheering us on. He was what every teacher/coach should be: fair, ethical, caring and classy. Eastern Iowa has lost a true gentleman today. RIP Coach Wilk!

  5. To say he was a wonderful teacher and man would be a total understatement. Wilkie was love and respected by all. I went to Kennedy in the 70′s, my son went in the 90′s and he loved him and respected as I did. RIP Mr. Wilkinson!

  6. As others have said, Wilk was a truly honorable man. He will be missed.

  7. Words cannot express the love of this man or the impact he had on so many lives. I had the honor, privilege and joy of playing under Wilk at Belle Plaine High School during his early years in coaching. There aren’t many men who can even come close to his following and devotion from former players and students. He gave everyone hope and a reason for participating in athletics. Wilk had such a love of all youth and the knowledge of the sport that he was coaching that you came away hoping to someday emulate him and his style and grace. Not many ever did.

    My father, John Franklin. said early in Wilk’s career; “pay attention to Coach Wilkinson and his direction, he will steer you in the right direction”. He said in the early 1960′s that Wilk would be a coach to remember and would be one of the greatest. My father knew his coaches.

    To Peg, Mike, Codi and Blake; my thoughts and prayers are with you all. How proud you must all be of your dad, and thank all of you for sharing him with all of us for so many years.

    Tom Franklin – BP 1963
    Portland, Oregon

  8. Coach WIlkinson was my varsity football position coach and basketball coach at Belle Plaine in the mid 60s. There was not a tougher and more fair-minded man than Wilk. We so enjoyed our off-seasaon workout and then heading to the swimming pool he managed in the summer. I feel so blessed and honored to have known with as a player, an athletic official but mostly as a friend I shall never forget.

    Don Burrows
    Belle Plaine ’67

  9. What an amazing man. He made the kids feel valued. We moved here just a few years ago but he made our famliy feel like we had known him forever. He was a fellow Bearcat :) Thank you, Harold.

  10. Wilk gave me a love of running and inspired me to coach at the high school level. He helped increase my self-esteem and is somebody that I will always hold in the highest of regard. RIP Wilk.

    • I completely agree. He was my very first athletic coach (JFK cross country, ’85) and he inspired me to pursue multiple sports throughout high school. That period did so much to help shape the rest of my life. Thank you, Wilk!

  11. Twelve years ago this week, two high school kids knocked on Coach Wilkinson’s home in Solon asking for donations for a can drive. We got much more than that…we got a new track coach. Coach Wilkinson helped us become better athletes & better people. He loved us all and made sure we knew it. He was patient yet strict & settled for nothing than our best. We shared a love of the sport of track & field and a last name…and I treasure the memory of sitting with Coach at the state track meet the one season we both coached under the name Coach Wilkinson. We have lost a great man, but all who have known Coach have gained so much by having his generous and kind spirit touch our lives.

  12. Harry Carey as we called him was my first little league baseball coach, well beloved, and respected. He was courting Peg when we were players, and my first athletic memories, were started with this great mentor , and role model. This family will always be beloved in Mound City, Mo. My sympathy to the Wilkinson Family. Joe Laukemper

  13. “Everyone can be replaced” they say, but in this instance I am not so sure. Mr. Wilkinson was a favorite at Belle Plaine as was his wife Peg. I am trying to teach my gandson, who runs track, some of the lessons I learned from Harold. All of those lessons were gifts, they will always be remembered. My deepest sympathy to the family.

  14. Coach Wilkinson was my cross-country coach at Kennedy High School 1992-1994. We had some t-shirts made in his last year of coaching cross-country that stated “Where there’s a Wilk, there’s a Way.” This was the absolute positive truth about Wilk. He was a great coach loved by everyone!

  15. Peg and Wilk’s family,
    It was a honor to be on the same faculty at Kennedy with Wilk. I remember when we moved to 48th Street NE where we still live, you were the art teacher at Eisenhower where Michael began kindergarten. And our next door neighbor, Sandy, had run track for Wilk at Belle Plaine. Thanks to you both for shaping the lives of so many young people.
    Phyllis and Dick Moore

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