Staying on track

By on April 4, 2013

Renowned track coach hopes area can become a hub for big meets
by Mike Sandrolini
ELBURN—One of the most successful and innovative cross country/track and field coaches in the country just might be your next door neighbor.

Skip Stolley, whose resume includes stints as an Illinois prep and college coach—he’s also coached more than 60 athletes over the years who’ve qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials—has been living in Elburn for less than a year.

Stolley moved to Elburn from St. Charles last August.

“It’s worked out well for me,” he said.

Last November, the Aurora native was named chairman of the USA Track and Field’s Illinois Long Distance Running Committee, and he quickly set the pace for the organization. Stolley created a nine-race USATF Illinois Road Race Championship Series for 2013, which began in January with the Warm Your Heart Indoor 5K at Chicago’s McCormick Place—an event that featured around 2,100 runners—and wraps up with the Evanston Flying Turkey 5K Nov. 28.

The series also includes the Fox Valley Marathon, to be held on Sept. 22 in St. Charles, and the Sycamore 10K Pumpkin Run Oct. 27.

“There hasn’t been an Illinois USTAF road championship at any distance for more than 20 years,” Stolley said, “and within 60 days we put that plan together.”

But Stolley is hoping the Fox Valley area can become a regional and national competitive running hub over the next few years.

Just before retiring as head track coach at North Park University in Chicago, Stolley founded the Chicago Area Track and Organizing Committee, a volunteer-based coalition of coaches, running enthusiasts, community and business leaders that are interested in bringing major regional and national running events to the area.

Stolley has started working with the Kane County Board on the possibility of developing a permanent cross country course on 780 acres of the Settler’s Hill property. The course would be 10 meters wide and located north of Settler’s Hill Golf Club, bordered by prairie grass with a wide start-finish area.

If development of the course comes to fruition, Stolley hopes it would be completed by the fall of 2015. He said there would be enough parking for 5,000 vehicles, along with permanent rest rooms and concession facilities.

A master plan, he said, would include a permanent finish chute, a press box, a scoreboard, a Jumbotron and underground timing pads. He envisions this course hosting events such as the NCAA, USA, open and world cross country championships.

“It’s really a tragedy that there’s no major meets in the Chicago area,” he said. “This is such a hotbed for track and field and cross country, and high school and college track is just booming.”

Stolley is clearly well plugged into the national cross country and track circuit. In addition to his current roles, he’s been a member of the USATF Men’s Track and Field executive committee, and chairman of the USATF National Club Council. He’s also been the meet director for the 1999 USA National Cross Country Championships in Long Beach, Calif., the 2004 Millrose Games at Madison Square Garden in New York City, and the 2006 USATF National Club Championships at Mt. San Antonio College.

In 1983, Stolley served as assistant meet director for the U.S. championships that were being held in Indianapolis. While working the meet, he had conversations with Bob Seagren, the 1968 Olympic pole vault gold medalist who at the time was the head of the PUMA Energizer track club in California. Seagren asked Stolley—who was still the men’s and women’s cross country and track coach at Indiana State University—if he would be interested in becoming the club’s executive director. With the Olympics being held in Los Angeles the next year, Stolley left Indiana State to join the club and moved out to Southern California.

“I thought this would be a great opportunity,” he said.

Stolley later started Track West, a USATF club that catered to developing post-collegiate men and women distances runners. During his tenure with Track West, Stolley helped produce more than 60 qualifiers for the USA Outdoor Championships and 24 athletes who took part in the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials.

“One of the things that I’m most proud of from that club is that the vast majority of those kids were not NCAA champions or medalists,” Stolley said. “They were people who wanted to continue their running careers after college and really developed with us to the point where they were national qualifiers and contending for places on USA teams.”

In 2006, Stolley then formed the VS Athletics Track Club, which supported developing men and women athletes over a broad spectrum of events such as distances, sprints, hurdles, jumps and throws. VSA became a USATF-designated Elite Development Club and produced 10 qualifiers for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in just its third year of existence.

“VS was a great marriage,” he said. “It’s extremely difficult to continue in our sport after college. While most people think that our Olympic teams are made up of the best college athletes, the truth is that the average age of our track and field Olympians is 29.2 years old. That means our best athletes have to find a way to stay in the sport for five, six, seven years after college and continue their development up to the international level.”

Stolley left the VSA for North Park in 2009, moving back to the Chicago area to be closer to his mother, who just turned 90, and his three brothers.

Outside of his affiliations with the Chicago Area Track and Organizing Committee and the USATF’s Illinois Long Distance Running Committee, Stolley hasn’t made a final decision as to what he would like to do in the future. But he did express interest in starting a track club in Illinois similar to Track West or the VS Athletics Track Club.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I would definitely use the VS Athletics model. What clubs there are (in Illinois) are mostly (for) distance running. There’s a real need for an organization like this.”