CHARLESTON (EIU) -- Long time Eastern Illinois director of track and field Tom Akers has announced his retirement from coaching the Panthers track & field teams following the 2018 outdoor season. The Panthers are to open the outdoor track season on March 24 before hosting the EIU Big Blue Classic on March 30-31 at O’Brien Field.
Akers said he's been thinking about this for the past couple of years.
"There's never really a good time to step away from a program because you are invested in the kids," Akers said. "I've been doing it for a long time. I've seen a number of coaches that hang on a little too long and their health starts to fade while they are working and not able to enjoy retirement. That's been one thing weighing on my mind. I just got to that point and felt it was the right decision that this point and time."
Akers has built the Panthers programs into the one of the most successful in Ohio Valley Conference history winning a combined 45 indoor and outdoor men’s and women’s track championships since the Panthers joined the Ohio Valley Conference. Akers also guided the Panthers to back-to-back Mid-Continent Conference (now the Summit League) indoor and outdoor men’s track championships during the program’s final two years in that league.
Currently in his 23rd year as the director of track and field, Akers has become synonymous with EIU track & field. He has posted a Hall of Fame coaching career which already includes induction in to the Illinois Track and Field Hall of Fame in December of 2015.
In his 20-plus years as the director of EIU Track & Field, Akers has been named the OVC Coach of the Year 45 times winning 32 men’s OVC championships. In 2009 he took over direction of both programs and has won 13 women’s titles since that time.
Akers said a number of people have helped with all of the accomplishments.
"I've had excellent assistant coaches that are working by my side. We've shared the same philosophy on how things should run and how the athletes should be treated," Akers said. "It comes down to the athletes as well. Do they want to buy in? Are they here for performances only? A majority of our athletes have. I hope that they realize that and I think a lot of them do.
"The championships are nice. Those are fun to work for. They collect a lot of dust. It's those friendships and relationships that mean so much more."
During his tenure as head coach EIU has had nine Division I first team All-Americans and a total of 19 All-Americans (first, second and honorable mention honors). He will add one more this weekend as senior Haleigh Knapp competes at the NCAA Indoor National Championships. At the OVC level EIU has won more than 200 individual conference championships with 25 OVC Athletes of the Year, seven OVC Freshmen of the Year and seven OVC Championship MVP’s.
One of the 25 OVC Athletes of the Year was Zye Boey who posted one of the most decorated seasons in school history under Akers tutelage. Boey earned first team All-American honors in the 200m dash at the NCAA Indoor National Championships. He would later earn All-American honors at the NCAA Outdoor National Championships in 100m and 200m sprints. In the summer of 2012 Boey competed at the US Olympic Trials in both events. Boey finished his career with a grand total of five All-American honors, five OVC Track Athlete of the Year honors, five OVC Championship MVP awards and OVC Freshman of the Year honors.
From 1983-90, Akers was an EIU assistant coach when the Panthers won six indoor/outdoor Mid-Continent Conference championships. He was responsible for recruiting and coaching EIU’s first NCAA Division I National Champion, Jim Maton from Shelbyville, who was a four time NCAA All-American in 1987-88. Maton won the 800 meter run (1:49.3) at the 1988 NCAA indoor championship. A multiple Mid-Continent Conference champion and league ‘Athlete of the Year’, Maton holds most school records in the middle distance events.
Akers also recruited Dan Steele from Sherrard High School. He was a two time Division I All-American and national champion in the 400 hurdles in 1992. His twin brother, Darrin, was an All-American decathlete in 1992. Both were members of the USA Olympic Bobsled Team that competed in the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, and then Dan was a member of the Bronze Medal winning bobsled team at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
As the program director, EIU has added nine first team All-American honors with the most recent coming by Peter Geraghty in the outdoor pole vault in 2014. Jade Riebold earned All-American honors in the women’s pole vault placed second in the nation at the 2013 indoor national championships and third at the 2014 outdoor national championships. Mick Viken earned first team All-American honors in the 2013 indoor pole vault. Boey was a first team All-American in the 200m indoor meet in 2011. Ron White posted outdoor All-American honors in the javelin in 2000 and 2002. Gabe Spezia was a two-time All-American in the indoor hurdles in 1999 and 2000.
In 2009 EIU climbed as high as No. 33 in the Indoor National rankings as senior David Holm and freshman Zye Boey both advanced to the NCAA Indoor National Championships.
From 1990-94, Akers was a member of the department of Exercise and Sport Sciences at the University of Arizona. During his tenure there, he served as the assistant track coach at Palo Verde High School in 1992, and then started the boys/girls track program at Catalina Foothills High School in Tucson.
Akers received his undergraduate degree from the University of Northern Iowa in 1979. While there he was a two-time co-captain and set school and conference records in the 110 and 400 meter hurdles. His conference record in the 110 stood for 17 years until broken in 1996. An eight-time national qualifier, he earned 1979 All-American honors in the 400 hurdles.
He and his wife, Joelyn, have two sons, Clayton and Blake.
- JG-TC sports reporter Justin Rust contributed to this story