BG’s Bilka steps down

In his 20 years as head cross country coach at Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic High School, Joe Bilka often faced an uphill battle as far as numbers were concerned.

Even this past fall, BG was unable to field a full girls team for meets.

Nonetheless, Bilka always found significance in the intangibles concerning the sport.

“I always hoped that the runners were having fun, and I always stressed that giving their best effort was more important than wins and losses,” Bilka said. “If you gave your best effort, you were a winner.”

Bilka, 68, recently tendered his resignation as coach, effective Thursday, Nov. 30.

He and his wife, Vicki, who have six grandchildren, will use the extra free time to travel and see family members.

Bilka will remain a PIAA basketball official — a role that he has held for 36 seasons.

“We have six grandchildren, and two of them are in Corvalis, Ore.,” Bilka said. “Between officiating and coaching, it was difficult to travel cross-country to see them. I really felt that BG needed a younger coach, somebody with some fresh viewpoints. It was just time (to retire from coaching). Twenty years was long enough.”

Among Bilka’s coaching highlights was freshman Sonja Hinish’s all-state finish in 2001. Sonja, a three-time district champion, placed ninth among Class 2A runners in the 2001 PIAA state meet at Hershey.

“Sonja was the consummate athlete,” Bilka said. “She would run seven miles at practice, then go home and run another 10 to 15 miles.”

Current BG senior Joey Stevens broke in with the Bishop Guilfoyle junior high cross country program as a seventh-grade runner and competed for six years, including the past four as a varsity runner.

“We took it seriously, of course, but we all had a lot of fun,” Stevens said. “Coach Bilka always tried to motivate us to set goals and achieve our best. I feel like he did a good job of helping everybody reach their goals, regardless of skill level. I had a great experience with cross country.”

So did Bilka.

“When the runners succeeded, it was very rewarding for me,” said Bilka, who coached 11 total state qualifiers during his tenure. “Working with these young people kind of helped me to stay young.”