Lelko steps down as cross country coach
Over his 15 years as head cross country coach at Whitehall high School, Mike Lelko had plenty of memories.
For the past few years, he also began to understand how sports can have a fast clock of its own. Lelko resigned from his post in December.
“It was time,” he deadpanned. “(Assistant coach) Mike Fabian and I were talking about it this past year. I’ll be 65 in July, and it’s time for me to go on a vacation. It’s time to get some new blood in here.”
Lelko was pleased with the hiring of Brandon Hampton, who was approved by the Whitehall school board last month. Hampton was a volunteer assistant last year.
“He is an excellent choice,” said Lelko. “Brandon will do a lot of great things for the program.”
Lelko is a 1976 Whitehall grad who ran cross country and track for Tom Grammes. He then continued his career at East Stroudsburg University under head coach Dick DeSchriver, who proved to be inspirational toward his coaching career.
“He was a special coach and person in my life,” recalled Lelko. “I really enjoyed running for him. He also was instrumental in me someday becoming a coach.”
Lelko also enjoyed his time with Fabian, as the duo formed a strong chemistry between them. Fabian also will be stepping down.
“It was fun working with him,” stated Lelko. “We had a lot in common on how we approached and worked with the runners. We really gelled together.”
Lelko watched numerous runners develop to their potential and continue their careers in college. He knew it would be an individual battle.
“They had to realize that it is an individual sport in many ways,” noted Lelko. “The sport is similar to wrestling. With cross country, it comes down to being able to stay focused and work on lowering your time.
“We had a good group of kids at Whitehall who were willing to put in the time. They really enjoyed themselves, and that helped them get better. Even though I believe long distance runners are harder to find, there will still be kids who like to run.”
Senior Mikayla Warren will remember her coach for his dedication and commitment.
“Coach Lelko truly showed his passion for the sport,” said Warren. “He would do anything for each of his runners. Leko was extremely supportive as a coach and mentor and always wanted his athletes to reach their full potential.
“He supported me with my adventurous goal of doing cheerleading and cross country during the same season. Without all of his support, that wouldn’t have been possible.”
Warren always was impressed with his sense of recognizing the full athlete.
“Coach Lelko always made sure to recognize his runners for their accomplishments and improvements,” added Warren. “He even made sure to post pictures and well wishers for an athlete’s birthday. He cares about his athletes and was extremely dedicated to the team. The success of the program is a reflection of coach Lelko’s and coach Fabian’s passion to the sport.”
Lindsay Solderitch, who is a sophomore running at Millersville University, remembered many happy times and some dividends paid with Lelko in the program.
“Coach Lelko was the best coach,” she stressed. “He put up with me and all of my crazy teammates for four years. He dealt with us singing on the bus so loudly on the bus ride to meets, and just plain being crazy at practice.
“Although we were made at some practices because of the hard workouts we had to do, it would always be worth it afterwards. He knew what was best for us, and it always paid off. He made me realize that I love the sport of running, and middle distance is more for me.
“I don’t think I would be a collegiate track athlete if I didn’t run cross country in high school, and I can thank coach Lelko and coach Fabian for that.”
Lelko walked away without any regrets.
“I’m happy with what we were able to accomplish,” he said. “It always was about the kids.
“Life is all about timing. I felt like I was getting a little too old, and I wanted to start doing some things.”
For the past 15 years, Lelko did plenty at Whitehall.