DIXON – Evan Thorpe took the Dixon cross country program to heights it never had reached before.
Now it's someone else's turn to improve upon it.
Thorpe submitted his resignation as head cross country coach. He will continue to teach physical education at Madison Elementary and coach the Reagan Middle School cross country and track programs.
After 20 years of leading sports programs at the high school, the last 12 with cross country, 8 with wrestling, and 2 coaching both, Thorpe wanted to pass the torch.
"I've been a head coach for 22 years, and I could certainly stay on and coach all-state runners year after year, but the challenge of putting together a team, it's just somebody else's turn to do," Thorpe said. "I'm very proud of what we've done."
He came to Dixon after spending 2 years as head wrestling coach at Galesburg. The Dukes and Duchesses runners sent Thorpe out of the head coaching ranks with success this past season.
The boys finished second at the Class 2A state meet in November behind Kaneland. Brock Drengenberg finished fourth and was the highest-placing nonsenior at state; senior Christian Seagren was ninth, and junior Gadyn Grafton and senior Logan Griswold also placed in the top 50.
Two juniors led the Duchesses to a ninth-place finish in November: Paige Stees took 11th and Jade Miller was 15th.
Thorpe isn't leaving the cupboard bare.
"To be able to go on the journey with the kids that we had this year was incredible," Thorpe said.
Dixon Athletic Director Jared Shaner likes that the program is in a good spot, he said.
"Evan's been a great coach for a number of years," Shaner said. "He's a very good coach, and it's amazing to watch him interact with kids. He's a really good teacher and a really good guy. We'll miss him."
The program's greatest success came when the boys won the 2A state championship in 2008, edging Belvidere North 94-97 for the gold. Kasey Ferrigan led the Dukes with a runner-up finish, Kyle Boone placed eighth, and Matt Logan and Zach Payne also finished in the top 50.
The Dukes qualified for state seven times under Thorpe and won six regional championships. The Duchesses qualified for state four times and won a regional in 2010.
Aside from the accolades, Thorpe also is very proud of coaching his children, Simon and Haley, to state success. Simon finished in the top 25 at state all 4 of his high school years from 2010 to 2013, and finished 12th his senior year. Haley took home top 25s in 2010 and 2011. Collin Grady, Brittany Schwarz, Chelsea Sondgeroth and Cody Sondgeroth also medaled at state under Thorpe’s tutelage.
Simon has helped his father as an assistant for the last 3 years, and recently was hired as a social studies teacher at the high school.
Evan would like to see his son take over the program and continue with the philosophy that being a successful runner is about doing well every day, and not to simply focus on the year-end results.
"I think my son's a very strong candidate," he said.
The high school also is looking for a head tennis coach to replace Steve Boll, who is retiring from teaching this month.
Shaner hopes to have the cross country and tennis positions filled by the next school board meeting on June 17.