Steamboat Springs The dusty gymnasium at the old Steamboat Springs Middle School is the setting for some of Michelle Wilkie’s first and most treasured memories.
She remembers playing there, shooting hoops and toying around with the equipment as her mother, Billee Harris, worked as an elementary physical education teacher and her father, Bob Harris, as one of the most prolific football, basketball and track coaches in Routt County high school history.
“I’m a third generation teacher,” Wilkie said Sunday, reflecting on the path that led her from the cobwebs of that gymnasium, across the state and region and finally back to Routt County, to coach the Hayden High School girls basketball team.
“Teaching and coaching, it’s all about the kids,” she said, those three generations of dedication oozing from her words. “I saw my mom and my dad and I saw how many lives they touched just by being who they were and letting the passion they have out through education and sports, and how it rubbed off on the kids.”
It’s the generations of examples that Wilkie said inspire her now as she prepares for her first season coaching a high school varsity team.
Changes in trajectory
Coaching at the varsity level is something Wilkie expected to have accomplished by now.
Motivated by her parents, she said she knew she was going to coach even before she was finished competing at Steamboat Springs High School, where she had successful careers in volleyball, basketball and track.
That was part of the plan when she headed off to University of Wyoming and when she graduated from there having spent most of her five years there practicing sports medicine for the school’s Division 1 athletic teams.
In 1994, she started down the path cut by her family, teaching fourth grade and coaching at a middle school in Crowley County for five years.
“I was always going to follow in my dad’s footsteps,” she said.
Of course, things changed.
“Then I became a mom,” she continued. “Priorities changed.”
Wilkie eventually moved to and from Hayden, teaching physical education and music at the school in the early 2000s and landed in Calhan, a small plains town east of Colorado Springs.
There, Wilkie again began coaching, joining the high school’s staff as a basketball assistant. One more unexpected turn in life brought her and her growing family — husband, Ryan Wilkie, and daughters, Grace, in seventh grade, and Hannah, in fourth — back to Routt County.
A job for Ryan Wilkie brought the family back to the area in May, and after getting back on at Hayden Valley Elementary, Michelle Wilkie hoped she’d be able to continue as she had and applied for an opening as an assistant coach for the Tigers’ high school girls basketball team.
That role changed entirely before she was even hired, however. Former coach Eric Hamilton resigned in order to coach the Moffat County High School boys varsity team, and, years after she’d set out to find one, a varsity head coaching job lay at Wilkie’s feet.
“It took some major consideration,” she said. “I asked, ‘Am I ready for this? Are my kids ready?’ Being a mom is my priority.”
The answers to those questions all came back “yes” and was supported by plenty of other signs. Among them, Wilkie already knew many of this year’s Tigers, having taught them in her previous stint in Hayden.
Grace and Hannah were thrilled, and Wilkie herself was eager, and she applied for and got the job.
“It just fell into place,” she said. “A long time ago, I would have said this is exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up, and it’s been such a blessing.”
It was a decision generations in the making.
“I love being with kids and teaching them and helping them love life. I want to be a part of their life, and for them to say, ‘I had this crazy coach, this crazy teacher, and this is what she taught me,’” Wilkie said. “I see adults say that about both my mom and my dad, see them come up and say, ‘Your dad was so this,’ or ‘Your mom taught me that.’ It makes me proud.
“I want my kids to hear stories like that about me, to have them be proud of me for who I was and what I did.”
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com