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Longtime coach Sue Fleskes will hand the reins to former pupil Adrian Shipley

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Forest Grove cross-country coach Sue Fleskes chats with Geremia Lizier-Zmudzinski during a track meet against McMinnville in April 2013. Fleskes is retiring after four decades  as a coach at the school.Sue Fleskes simply decided it was time.

Having put together a coaching career than has spanned through five different decades, the longtime coach of the Forest Grove cross-country program has resigned from her position, and on Thursday the school hired her successor.

The Vikings athletic department did not look far for its next hire. Instead, it turned to a familiar face in Adrian Shipley, a 2005 Forest Grove graduate and Fleskes’ assistant for the past few years.

“It’s not like I left something that I didn’t like, or that I was tired or that I didn’t want to do it anymore,” Fleskes said. “I just felt like it was the right thing for the program.”

It had been Fleskes’ hope that Shipley would take over the program for her, and she has gradually been adding to his list of responsibilities over the past couple of years.

After Fleskes informed Forest Grove athletic director Doug Thompson of her decision several weeks ago and the opening was posted, Thompson decided to look in-district for the next coach. Shipley was one of two strong candidates, he said.

“Of course, (Fleskes) wants the program to continue in all the strides and improvements it’s made over the years to be very successful,” Thompson noted. “I think she kind of wanted Adrian to take it over. We were going to go out and hire the best coach, but Adrian showed us nothing but great things the last couple years.

“He’s done a great job working with our kids, so the program’s in great hands still.”

Though Shipley is now the head coach, Fleskes will remain involved in the program “as much as she wants to be,” Shipley said. In fact, she is helping manage the team’s summer base training program while Shipley is spending the week with a group of kids at a high-altitude training camp in central Oregon.

But the move will also free Fleskes up to pursue some other interests, though she admits she is not entirely sure which direction she will take. But no longer being tied so extensively to year-round coaching will allow more chances to visit family — she has three grandkids in Boston — and she has designs on performing some mission work with her church.

In any and all cases, the departure will be a life change for Fleskes. She started with the district in 1971 and has served as a head coach in swimming, track and field, cross-country and gymnastics. She is still in touch with many of her former athletes, she noted, and described her career as “blessed.”

As for Shipley, who turns 28 later this summer, he gives all indications of being an up-and-coming coach. He ran in college at Pacific University, where he still ranks third all-time in the 10,000 meters on the track. Shipley earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts and a master’s degree in arts education, and he continues to race in marathons and ultramarathons. He works at the high school as an instructional assistant.

Now he gets the opportunity to build on Fleskes’ legacy. In some 20 years at the helm, she built up the cross-country program and turned it into a player on the state stage. She took over the team in 1993, dealt with a district funding cut to the team in the late 1990s, and then shaped the program into what it is today — a regular league champion and state qualifier.

The boys team has advanced to the state meet in Eugene nine of the past 10 years and won three consecutive Pacific Conference titles. Last fall, the Vikings finished seventh to match the boys team’s best finish at state.

The girls squad has also been on the rise, particularly in recent seasons. They claimed league crowns in 2011 and 2012 before finishing second last year and then recording a best-ever result at state with a seventh-place finish.

Well-versed in that success — having been on the 2004 team that began that boys run — Shipley’s goal is to continue to build upon it.

“It’s no longer the expectation to just get to state, but both teams really want to go to the state meet and perform at a high level,” he noted.

The new coach should have plenty to work with this fall, when the school transitions to the predominantly Salem-based Greater Valley Conference. The boys team is eligible to return four runners who raced in Eugene last fall, while the girls team could return five.

That is a great starting point for Shipley — and a great ending point for Fleskes.

“This is what I’m meant to do,” she said. “I think this is a good thing for the program. It’s not going to miss a beat.”

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