WAVERLY – There aren’t many people more influential in Rex Wilkes’ life than Robert Lurie.
As a student at Waverly High School in the early 2000s, Wilkes bonded with Lurie, a longtime social studies teacher and girls track coach for over two decades, and looked at him not only as a mentor, but a father figure.
“He played a big role in my development when I was coming through high school,” Wilkes said. “I didn’t necessarily have too much of a parental figure around me. He and Dave Pike (boys track coach) really mentored me through.”
Lurie stepped away from the girls track team in 2015, a year removed from a second-place finish at the Division 2 state meet, and handed the keys to Wilkes. And in a short period, the second-year coach showed his gratitude by bringing home the program’s first state title in school history.
“It’s still very surreal for me because I don’t feel any different,” said Wilkes, the State Journal girls track coach of the year. “I know winning a state championship was on my 10-year coaching plan but, to do it in my second year, I felt like it was unthinkable.
“It’s great to see it come full circle because I know how much the Waverly coaches and Waverly community played in my life.”
Wilkes had been soaking up knowledge for 13 seasons as an assistant before taking over the team. One of the tactics he focused on this season came with his relay teams. Wilkes started the season with small exchange zones, knowing his girls would get better throughout the season as a result.
His 800- and 400-meter relay teams went on to win titles at the state meet. The 400 team set a new school record with a time of 48.70. He said he purposely made the exchange zones at the state meet further than they had been all season.
“A lot of kids these days want immediate gratification, and as you’re working throughout the season, you kind of hold them back a little because you don’t want them to experience that amount of success too early,” said Wilkes, whose team finished in fourth place in the CAAC Red. “It was a gradual build up throughout the season.”
Wilkes first started believing his team could make history at the Davison Cardinal Invitational that took place shortly before regionals. Waverly went on to win the invite and were able to scout some of its upcoming competition, which includes Flint Powers, the team the Warriors topped by two points at states.
His decision to not join the boys team at the Williamston Invite paid off.
“I wanted to get them away so they can focus on themselves,” the 31-year-old said. “I wasn’t planning on it to turn out that way, but the girls really ran hard against some good competition.”
Wilkes can’t remember the excitement, in regards to his program, ever being higher. Members within the school’s administration have shown appreciation by attending meets. And more parents are helping out at the middle school level.
Wilkes said he’s become the person he is today because of the Waverly community. And, now, he’s setting out to return the favor.
“I reached one of my main goals of winning a state championship, so now I have to look at my next goals,” Wilkes said. “My next goals are to build a program, to get more girls up, get more girls to buy-in … and then at the same time, try and get more participation not for just our sport, but to put Waverly on the map. We’re right here. We have great students, we have great teachers and great athletes, maybe you want to send your kid there someday.”
Contact James L. Edwards III at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JLEdwardsIII.