Owls’ athletic director retires

By Sam Jack

GARDEN PLAIN – Lee Gillen recently retired, concluding an education career that spanned 45 years as a teacher, coach and athletic director, with the last six of those years spent as athletic director and social studies teacher at Garden Plain High School.

Before coming to Garden Plain, he coached and served as AD at several other Kansas high schools, including those in Manhattan, Scott City and Hugoton.

“Without question, the best staff that I’ve had the opportunity work with as an AD has been in Garden Plain,” Gillen said. “For a number of reasons. One, they’re truly in it for the right reasons. They want to help young people grow up, not only in the athletic arena, but also as they move into young adulthood.”

Gillen said that GPHS coaches never had major conflicts around scheduling of multi-sport athletes, something that he experienced elsewhere.

“I would want my son or daughter to play for any coach in Garden Plain right now. That’s the quality of people they are, and I’ll miss them,” he said.

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In 45 years as a coach and AD, Gillen has seen the youth sports landscape change dramatically, and he does not view the change as uniformly positive.

“In so many ways, the perspective is getting lost, of what’s the purpose of it. It’s almost getting to the point now where it’s win at all cost, and if you didn’t win, you’re not successful,” he said. “That’s frustrating for me. I want to win – I’m competitive – but (winning and losing) doesn’t necessary give a fair estimate of what kids are getting out of being involved in athletics.”

Gillen casts a jaundiced eye on the summer camps, travel teams and clinics that have proliferated in recent years. Youth sports in the U.S. is now a $15.3 billion market, Time magazine reported last year, and it has grown by 55 percent since 2010.

“I’m not saying that they’re all bad, because that’s unfair, but look at all the clubs, outside organizations and summer activities that are going on – it’s crazy, in my opinion. There’s a place for some of it, but I see us trying to move all athletics toward those elite athletes, those ones that could go on to play college sports,” Gillen said. “Most kids, when they graduate high school, they’re done. They don’t have the skills or ability to play at the major college level. Some do, but not very many. We can’t gear everything we do toward those elite few, and that’s exactly what’s happening.”

Gillen recently traveled to Ogallala, Neb., to help his son coach basketball. He hasn’t ruled out coaching in the future, though he says he is done with being the head coach.

“I wouldn’t really say I’m retired. I retired from the education arena, but I’m looking to do something else. I may very well substitute teach. I’m not someone who can just set around; I’d go crazy,” he said.