John Wilkens is in this for the long haul. He figured that out 22 years ago.
“That’s when I had my change in career,” the Marblehead boys soccer coach said. “I was working in a software company and decided it wasn’t fulfilling for me.”
So he switched to education, and he’s never looked back.
The native New Yorker landed in Marblehead, first in the town’s middle school and then in its high school as of 2003, where he teaches history.
“The beauty of it is that there’s a new set of kids every year,” he said. “It always brings new challenges.”
Along with pursuing a new career in education, Wilkens — who played lacrosse both in high school and at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore — wanted to get into coaching too. One can teach the same lessons and make a difference on the playing field as easily as in the classroom, he says.
He’s making a difference this year. The Magicians are 10-0 thus far, but as you might expect from a man who pivoted in life and went down a new road, he’s not taking anything for granted.
“I think we have a much tougher schedule in the second half,” he said. “We have a few more non-league games, such as Bedford N.H., Lexington, Newburyport, and Melrose.”
“Plus, we have all our league games for a second time,” he said. “Those games are always harder to play the second time around.”
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that COVID-19 is not a public health emergency anymore. Toward that end, high school sports are firmly back in business too, after some rocky times.
“It’s great,” he said. “It’s really fun. Two years ago, we had a COVID schedule and only played league games. Now, we’re up to our normal schedule. It’s fantastic — good for the kids.”
Wilkens says each year brings something different to the mix.
“We have a good set of seniors this year,” he said. “Our leader is Connor Cronin, who you might know from football. He brings a lot.”
Cronan and co. hope to bring the Magicians further than they went last year, when they fell in the second round of the Division 2 state tournament to Minnechaug Regional of Wilbraham.
“We had a nice season, but that was a tough one,” Wilkens said, “We sat on a bus for three hours and lost.”
But, the Magicians have rode a good core of returnees, including Baxter Jennings on faceoffs, Carl Grenier and Connor Laramie on attack, captain Sam Annese on defense; and senior goalie Fran Maniaci, to their hot start.
While the Magicians may be unbeaten, there have been some close calls, including an overtime win over Winchester and a difficult game with Masconomet (who the Magicians will play again next week).
After 22 years of coaching, one might expect that Wilkens would have a laundry list of changes he’s observed over the years, but he really doesn’t.
“The kids are basically the same,” he said. “They want to play. They want to win.”
The fruits of coaching, Wilkens says, are many.
“It keeps you young and involved,” he said. “That’s the best part. Every year it’s something different.”
“And it’s always nice to see a kid grow into a leader on the field,” he added. “And it’s also nice when they come back to see you. That means a lot.”