Shannon McGovern

With 100 meters left in the race in one of the last meets of his junior year, a familiar voice called out to senior and four-year cross country and track member Erik Snell. Standing along the sidelines among a group of coaches and fans, head track coach Mike Stokes surprised Snell with some last minute motivational cheering to help propel him to a strong finish.

“[Stokes] always gets super excited and enthusiastic during meets, running around the infield of the track to cheer us on,” Snell said. “He motivates me to reach my highest potential.”

After 29 years of motivating Prospect students on the track and in the classroom, that race turned out to be one of Stokes’ last meets as head coach; he is retiring in May, and this year’s season was shortened by the unfortunate occurrence of COVID-19.

Along with coaching cross country and track, Stokes has also taught special education in a wide variety of classes. Over the years, Stokes has taught Strategies for Learning, Physics, Physical Science ACE program, U.S. History, World History, Physical Science, Health and Biology. 

Most special education teachers have one subject that they specialize in, but this is not the case with Stokes. Wherever Prospect needed him, he was there. Stokes said that the biggest thing he has learned from his teaching career is the same thing he learned from his mom: tenacity. 

“You just have to be flexible, stay at it, and it will all work out,” Stokes said.

Physical education teacher and football and baseball coach Dominic Cannon has seen prime examples of this persistence. Cannon has known Stokes for all the time that he has worked at Prospect, and the two have been close friends ever since they met. 

According to Cannon, he and Stokes knew each other from coaching when he worked at Palatine High School, and when Cannon came here, Stokes welcomed him into special education. Cannon had taught special education previously, but Stokes greatly helped him adjust to teaching at a new school.

“Nobody knows all the ins and outs that Stokes has done for our school,” Cannon said. He’s the first one here in the morning and the last one [to leave] at night. He just goes about his business, and he doesn’t want the recognition … but he deserves everything he gets.”

The two have had a mutual respect for one another, not only because of their shared interest in teaching special education, but for their love of coaching. 

Stokes has had a passion for cross country and track throughout his entire life. He participated in them through his school teams while he was growing up and continues to run recreationally. According to Cannon, this passion is what makes Stokes such a great coach.

“He coaches because he loves it,” Cannon said. “He still has the same passion as he did 29 years ago when I met him.”

After being a part of the Prospect family for so long, student athletes are sad to see Stokes go but know that his legacy as a coach will live on. 

“I think Stokes is a great representation of our whole [cross country and track and field] program,” Snell said. “Obviously we’re all going to be sad when he leaves, but I think since [our assistant coach] was coached by Stokes as well, he will bring the same great qualities to coaching as Stokes showed him.”

Head track and field coach and assistant cross country coach Jay Renaud will be taking over Stokes’ position as head coach next year for cross country. Renaud was also coached by Stokes, and Stokes has confidence in Renaud’s ability to run the program. 

Coach Renaud has done a great job with our track program,” Stokes said. “He hit the books and really got out of his comfort zone to become a complete track coach and will now take on a different level of coaching for running.”

As he goes into retirement, Stokes’ great teaching and coaching styles won’t be the only things he’s remembered for — his great character has proven to impact all of his students, athletes and fellow teachers. 

“Stokes is what you would call a lifer,” Cannon said. “He’s a life coach, meaning he’s not in it for money, he’s not in it for notoriety; he’s in it because he loves kids, and he’s passionate. He’ll always be around [Prospect] somewhere.”