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Cross Country Meet Dedicated to Shenk

Aubrey Shenk is joined by current and past athletes at his reception party.
Aubrey Shenk is joined by current and past athletes at his reception party.

On Monday, Executive Director of Intercollegiate Athletics and Campus Recreation Mike Mattia announced that the new name of the annual home cross country meet will be named the Aubrey Shenk Cross Country Invitational. After serving at Gettysburg College for 35 years, including the last 10 as the head coach of the men’s and women’s cross country and track and field programs, Aubrey Shenk decided to put down his clipboard and stopwatch following the 2019 cross country season.
“After many years of successfully stewarding the cross country invitational with so many great teams, it was only natural that we named it after Aubrey,” said Mattia. “He put in all the hard work, sweat, and effort into making this such a great event. His legacy will last forever because of it.”

I am humbled, honored, and thrilled beyond belief to have our annual cross country invitational named after me,” said Shenk. “Ed Riggs ’77 and I started the invitational back in 1989, and to have it bear my name is extraordinarily special!”

Ed Riggs '77 (right) and Aubrey Shenk (left)
Ed Riggs ’77 (left) and Aubrey Shenk (right)

Shenk’s coaching tenure came to a bittersweet end this past Saturday as both the men’s and women’s cross country teams concluded the season at the NCAA Mid-East Regional. The men’s team placed 16th out of 51, and the women’s squad took 26th out of 49.

Shenk announced his decision to retire following the 2019 cross country season back in August. The long-time coach mulled over the decision for a long time and ultimately chose to end his tenure in the same manner he started it in the 1980s alongside the cross country teams.
“Objectively and subjectively, I think now is the time to leave as a full-time coach of both sports at the end of this cross country season,” said Shenk. “I began with cross country here as a part-time assistant coach with Ed Riggs ’77 and I decided I wanted to finish with cross country.
“I care deeply about this program, this department, and this school,” he added. “I wanted to ensure as much as possible that the student-athletes in the program have the right coaching staff in place to move forward and to have the opportunity find out how to become the best they can be. I believe that to be the case at this time.”
“I want to thank Aubrey for all of his years of service to the athletic department,” said Executive Director of Intercollegiate Athletics and Campus Recreation, Mike Mattia. “He has mentored countless numbers of cross country and track and field student-athletes while also helping produce all-time record holders and several individual personal records. His calming presence, demeanor, and positive attitude have always benefited his athletes, especially on race day.” 

Shenk’s ties to Gettysburg go back more than half a century to his days as a budding cross country and track and field athlete at Juniata College competing against the Bullets in the late 1960s. After gaining a degree in psychology and becoming a licensed psychologist with a private practice, Shenk answered an ad in the Harrisburg Patriot News for a part-time cross country assistant coach in 1984 and the rest is history.
Shenk served as an assistant coach for the Bullets men’s and women’s cross country teams for 26 seasons. He helped steer the women’s program to an appearance at the NCAA Division III Championship in 1987 and the program’s only Centennial Conference title in 1994. He started helping with the men’s and women’s track and field team in 1994, serving an assistant coach for 16 years. With the track teams, he worked primarily with the distance runners, coaching numerous national qualifiers and All-Americans, including the only three-sport (cross country, indoor track and field, outdoor track and field) All-American in school history, Bill Gray ’96. From 2010-11, Shenk served on an interim basis as head coach and was then promoted to full-time status in June 2011.
Since taking over the cross country program, Shenk has coached a total of ten all-region performers, eight All-Centennial Conference finishers, and four national qualifiers (Hilfrank twice, Rinehart, Taber). In 2017, Elizabeth Hilfrank ’18 seized All-America recognition at the NCAA Division III Championship, becoming the first woman to earn national accolades in 36 years. The previous season, Ben Taber ’17 ran his way to the national stage after placing fourth at the regional meet, marking the best regional finish by a men’s runner in 18 years. This past season, senior Sam Sheldon earned First Team All-Centennial Conference by virtue of his top-seven finish. His seventh-place showing marked the best finish by a Gettysburg runner at the meet since Ben Taber ’17 was also seventh in 2016. Sheldon also garnered all-region honors this past Saturday as he placed 35th overall. 
The women’s cross country team has finished among the top 15 regionally in eight of Shenk’s ten seasons at the helm. The squad finished sixth at the NCAA Division III Mideast Regional in both 2011 and 2012. The men have finished among the top 20 in the region six times, including 12th in 2010.
For Shenk, being positive was a mindset that he wanted to instill into his student-athletes, especially before race day. There is not a cross country race that goes by where you do not hear Shenk say, “It’s a great day to run and it’s a beautiful day to enjoy your sport.” He believes that no matter what sport you play, it is always a great day to enjoy it.
“The most rewarding part of my job, which I do not consider it a job, is being with the student-athletes on a daily basis,” mentioned Shenk. “Watching and helping them transition from adolescence to adulthood and learning life’s skills through their sport is what it is all about. Every day they make me smile!”
In men’s track and field, Shenk coached a pair of All-Americans in miler Clay Reynolds ’11 and discus thrower Andrew Hinds ’16. At the conference level, the long-time coach led the Bullets to a total of 11 conference titles during the indoor and outdoor campaigns, including three by David Kaiser ’16 in the long jump.
On the women’s side, Shenk coached indoor and outdoor All-American Katie Cavanaugh ’16, who finished sixth in both the 60-meter hurdles and in the 100-meter hurdles in 2016. He also mentored three CC Championship Most Outstanding Performers and 24 conference champions. Gettysburg has also set a total of 29 total indoor and outdoor records between the men’s and women’s programs under Shenk, including five during the 2017-18 campaign.
The cross country and track and field programs are annually near the top of the list when it comes to academic prowess among Gettysburg athletic teams. Shenk has had numerous athletes named to the conference academic honor roll, Unites States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) All-Academic Squad, and the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) Academic All-District Team. Hilfrank was named an Academic All-American in 2018.
Shenk leaves behind six programs in strong contention to compete in the highly competitive Centennial Conference. For the cross country teams, the women are a young group of runners with promise, while the men have a core group of veteran experience. The same is said with both track and field teams as the men had two outdoor CC Champions in Nicholas Grissinger ’21 (400-meter hurdles) and Steven Heinbaugh ’22 (decathlon) in 2019. 
“Gettysburg College has been a significant part of my life for the past 35 years,” stated Shenk. “The relationships with students and all staff have been enriching and inspiring. Having a vital on-going role in the maturation and growth of each student-athlete in our program has been energizing and deeply rewarding.
“I am forever grateful to everyone who gave me this unique and long-term opportunity, most importantly Ed Riggs and Robert Hulton, who hired me; Bob Congdon, Anne Schenck, and Steve Shutt – all coaches who kept me;  and Dave Wright who hired me for the head coaching position.”
Succeeding Shenk at the helm of the track and field programs on an interim basis this season will be assistant coach Bryson Hartzler. A Division III and Division I national qualifier at Penn State Behrend and Penn State University, respectively, Hartzler has coached side-by-side with Shenk for five seasons and shared in the teams’ various successes.
“I am very excited to have Bryson step in as the interim head track and field coach,” said Mattia. “Bryson’s career has grown during his time at Gettysburg as he has taken on more and more responsibility each year. I am looking forward to seeing what he can do with our track and field teams this academic year.”
Following the conclusion of the track and field season next May, Gettysburg will conduct a national search for a head coach.

This story was originally posted on the Gettysburg College Website.

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