After growing up and attending school in eastern Lincoln county, then coaching and teaching for 20-plus years, Mark Shanklin will call it a career at the end of the school year.
Following his high school years at East Lincoln, Shanklin attended Western Carolina where he received a business degree, and later added a history and social studies degree from UNC-Charlotte. He knew all along that he wanted to do three things, teach history, coach swimming and win a state title.
Shanklin was always into competitive swimming. In the late 1970’s, he was a member of the first swim team at East Lincoln that was started by the Cox family. When he returned to East Lincoln to help coach the swim team and eventually take it over, the program had kind of come and gone over the previous few years.
“When I first went in, there was a core group of swimmers that knew what they were doing,” Shanklin said. “The rest of the guys were recreational swimmers.” So Shanklin began to amp it up. With the workouts and practices getting tougher, he lost some of his athletes by year two.
But with the harder work came more success, which led to more swimmers. The program went from a total of 14 male and female swimmers to 32.
Shanklin made his team better and more competitive in meets by building strong relay teams, since the points are doubled in those events. Year by year his core group got stronger and grew in numbers, and in 2005 the team had a breakout victory when they defeated 3A power Ashbrook.
“Our numbers were 2A, but we were swimming at the 3A level,” said Shanklin. “When we beat them (Ashbrook), we knew we were on the cusp of something big.”
In the 2005-06 school year, East Lincoln would drop to 2A. Shanklin had been studying the 2A swim meets, and felt like his team would go into state competition as kind of an unknown. The Mustang boys would capture the 2A state title in 2006, edging out powerhouse Cardinal Gibbons, while the girls’ team took fifth place.
“I had watched those young boys in a summer league at Cowans Ford Country Club under coach Josh Williams,” Shanklin said. “When they were in middle school, I called them the Four Horsemen.”
Shanklin was speaking of Jesse Cadenhead, Ryan Hultgren, Johnny Betts and Cruz Alexander. Those were the four leaders of the state championship team. Adam Hoyle and newcomer Austin Spain also played a crucial role in winning a state title.
With those 5 guys all being juniors, the team was able to repeat as 2A state champions in 2007. That squad also had a kid come out of nowhere to really impress his coach and play a key role. “Doug Dellinger came in as a junior and had never swam competitively,” said Shanklin. “He worked harder than anyone. I’d have to tell him to dial it back a little.” By the end of his senior season, Dellinger had the fastest time on the team in the 100-yard freestyle.
Shanklin would later take a couple years off from the high school coaching scene to spend more time with his own kids, Brett and Ryan, and his wife Michele. “The boys played club soccer, and I’d take one to practice and Michele the other,” Shanklin said. “It was time for me to coach my kids. I’ve never looked back on that decision.”
Shanklin returned to coach swimming in 2009, and both boys later went on to play high school soccer and kick for the football team. Today, Brett is a senior at UNC, and Ryan is a freshman.
With retirement on the horizon, Shanklin is starting to realize many things that he’ll miss. “The daily interaction with the kids,” said Shanklin. “I love my students. They keep me entertained and I try to return the favor.”
The coach said he’ll miss the closeness of his swim teams and the involvement of the parents. “Mike Cadenhead was my top volunteer parent,” said Shanklin. “Not just swimming. He put his time in at East Lincoln. I don’t know what I’d have done without him.”
He’ll miss the heart and the sportsmanship of kids like Calli Thompson. Shanklin always stressed sportsmanship first, and that always stood out with Thompson.
Shanklin hopes that the relationships that he has built along the way will be long lasting. People like Adam Fier, Kristen Bullock, Rachel Thompson and Williams have become great friends along the way.
The coach had a few words of wisdom for today’s new up and coming leaders. “First, focus on your second and third tier athletes. These kids make the difference between a good team once in a while and a perennial championship contender, said Shanklin. “Instill confidence in every athlete and celebrate their growth. Maximum effort is deserving of respect.”
“Second,” Shanklin said, “never underestimate anyone. A coach once told me you can’t coach toughness. I didn’t believe it then, and I know it’s not true today. You can coach a kid anything if you think outside of the box. Ask some of my swimmers about our annual mud march, brutal water polo games, four mile swims or a 400 yard butterfly . Those were some of the toughest individuals I’ll ever know.”
“Finally,” said Shanklin, “a message to all of my former athletes, coaches, and family members: Whether the coach, the athlete or the supporter, the total experience is felt and shared by all. Thank you and God’s blessings.”
When asked what it will be like when that final day does come, Shanklin said, “I’m kind of a ritual guy. I always have to be the last one out of the building in June. I come out of my room, look back and tap the sign that says “Mr. Shanklin,” and I thank God for it all.”
Shanklin doesn’t plan on being 100-percent absent from the athletics side of things, and plans on volunteering his coaching to the athletes. “I’ll always be involved with East Lincoln, Shanklin said. “It’s my home. I love the school and the community.”
But Shanklin, who is a lover of the great outdoors, also plans on treating himself and his wife once Michele retires. “We have a teardrop camper, a Jeep, bikes, and kayaks,” Shanklin said. “National parks, here we come.”