By Brian Eller - email@example.com
WOODSTOCK -- Last Sunday, Roger Wilkins sat down to make a few phone calls. On his list were six people, the half-dozen players who are set to return to the Central boys basketball varsity squad next season.
The news wasn't easy to deliver, particularly to the players he had watched mature into young men over the last three years. But Wilkins knew it was time to move on. After three seasons as Central's boys basketball coach, and more than 25 years in the educational field, Wilkins has decided to step down from the head coaching position, a decision he says was not easy, but one that had been on his mind for some time.
"I thought about it for a long time," he said Thursday. "Basically the reason was just for me, personally. I want to be able to have time to myself. When you're a head coach, my personality is such that I want to put 100 percent into it all of the time. It's a year-round job. I want to be in a position where we could compete and I think the players, parents and community want to be able to compete at that level, too. I just can't function at that level anymore."
It's been nearly 30 years since Wilkins first entered into the educational system in the Woodstock area. After graduating from James Madison University in 1978, Wilkins began teaching at Woodstock Middle School in 1981. His time at Central High School started in 1983, when he took the reins of the junior varsity boys program, eventually becoming coach of the girls varsity team in 1986.
Through the years Wilkins served as an assistant and head coach, before becoming the head coach of the varsity boys team in 2007. Now, the Falcons' sideline will be without Wilkins for the first time in nearly three decades.
"I've been coaching basketball since 1983, and I just don't have that energy anymore," Wilkins said. "It was a hard decision. To be honest, I debated on whether to [step down] this past year, but I came back, had really good players, but I could just tell inside I didn't have that burning desire."
Beyond his decision to have more time with himself and his family, Wilkins remarked how the landscape of high school athletics has changed over the years.
Once a seasonal activity, basketball has now become a passion that, in order to succeed, must include a full-time dose of dedication. For a player, that may mean attending summer camps, off-season workouts and extra practices during the season, but for coaches that increased dedication also means attending those same camps and workouts in order to yield a contending team each season. And after several seasons, Wilkins knew that passion would eventually burn out.
Wilkins won't be the only one leaving Central's athletic department, however. Athletic director Susan Fleming announced earlier this week she will be retiring from her position. Fleming has been with Central High School for more than 30 years, and will leave with the distinction of being the first female athletic director in Shenandoah County. Although she was unavailable for comment, Wilkins said she was a great inspiration to the school and will be missed by the students and community.
"A lot of the stuff Susan did was behind the scenes," Wilkins said. "Sales, computer work, budgeting, finance, she was excellent at all of that. She was such a hard worker and Central's going to miss her.
"She genuinely had her heart in the right place and loved her students. Every decision she made was based off of what was best for the students."
As for Wilkins, he said that while he does not regret stepping down right now, the possibility of suffering "basketball withdrawal" later this year could present itself and that he may return to coaching again as an assistant or volunteer coach.
Currently Central has no leads toward naming a replacement, according to Wilkins, but he hopes his assistant coaches will apply for the position.
The decision to step aside was one of the toughest he's had to make, but Wilkins said he is very thankful for the time he's had as a coach of the Falcons.
"I'm so lucky to have been a part of this school for so many years," Wilkins said. "I've seen kids come through the program during my time and I'm just very fortunate to have been a part of it. Now it's time to move on."