LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

She coached county champions, division champions, district champions and state champions during a distinguished decade-plus tenure overseeing the distance runners at Palmyra Area High School.

But those who were under her tutelage won't remember the victories and the championships as much as they'll remember the passion, the enthusiasm and the laughs Barb Mellinger brought into their lives.

After 12 years as the Cougars' head cross country coach, which included a AA girls state title in 2012, and 10 more as the distance coach for the track and field team, Mellinger tendered her resignation as both a teacher and coach at Palmyra on Monday.

An English teacher, Mellinger, 52, is leaving to take a similar position at Milton Hershey with an eye toward eventually coaching again as well.

"An opportunity arose at Milton Hershey and I decided to apply," she said Monday evening. "I didn't really know how it would play out, but obviously it ended up that I got the job. It was one of those things where if I didn't take the opportunity to try something new and a different type of challenge now it might never happen. It's like the saying, 'Luck is the result when preparation meets opportunity', and that's kinda what happened. I needed something different."

Her heart, though, will stay in Palmyra for a good long while yet.

"They provided me with some of the best times of my life," Mellinger said of her runners, in particular recent grads Miranda Salvo, Maria Tukis and Katie Dembrowski, three-fourths of Palmyra's state champion 3200 relay team in 2013 along with current assistant coach Olivia Farabaugh. "I will always look back on the years that I spent at Palmyra as some of the best years that I've ever had. And I'm 52 years old, so that says something."

The highlight from a cross country standpoint was, of course, the state title season of 2012. From both her own knowledge and the opinion of others, Mellinger knew she had a special team that season. Watching it reach its full potential was even more special.

"I just remember the week before the state meet telling them, 'You can win,'" she said. "And it felt good to be able to genuinely say that. That (day of the state championship) was a really special day with really special people."

Mellinger's bond with her runners is so strong, she continues to guide them through workouts even though she's not officially their coach anymore. Knowing that her departure was imminent, Mellinger informed her team at the end of the school year that she would likely not be back, but will not abandon her charges until a new coach is in place.

"My demands on them are as high as they would be if I was still going to be their coach," she said.

Which is one of the many reasons why Mellinger has been so beloved by her runners over the years. What follows is some thoughts from a few who have benefited from Mellinger's high-energy coaching in recent years:

ELLIE KECK, SOPHOMORE >> "Barb was a great coach who made the team successful and fun. Her passion and hilarious personality will be irreplaceable. She is someone who is always looking for a new challenge so the team is happy for her. As a freshman (last school year), Barb was my coach for only two seasons (in cross country and track) and she already left a big impact on me. She was a great leader. We will miss her greatly and carry on the wisdom she gave us."

KATIE KECK, SENIOR>> "Barb Mellinger has been my coach in cross country and track for three years, and she has been a part of many of my best memories throughout high school. As a freshman coming onto the cross country team, Coach Mellinger saw potential in me that I didn't know I had, and she helped me become a better runner than I ever thought I could be. Her love of cross country is contagious, and the time she invests in the sport is showcased through the success of her athletes. She will be greatly missed at Palmyra."

JULIA PLATO, SENIOR>> "Coming into 9th grade I did not want to do cross country. But she believed in all of us and it gave me motivation to run for her. Only a great coach can motivate teenagers to run up hills over and over again."

EVAN MEGOULAS, JUNIOR>> She was a nice coach and I will miss her very much at the cross country meets.

KATIE SNYDER, 2009 GRAD AND CURRENT ASSISTANT COACH >> I met Barb in the summer of 2005, going into my freshman year. My brother wanted me to run so I gave it a shot, and I LOVED it. I've had the pleasure of having her as a coach for four years and a teacher, multiple times. She has shown me how to work hard, work through tough times and enjoy everything running and life has to offer. I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time with Barb off the track as well. Since graduating in 2009 she has always been there, through personal tough times, at graduation parties and birthdays. She became and always will be: a friend, a mentor, a coach, and a second mom. Lucky me, I even got to coach with Barb as a volunteer assistant and once again, witness firsthand how many lives she touches through coaching and teaching. Her time and dedication to me and other student- athletes through the years is unmatched. While this is a huge loss for Palmyra, I am so proud of Barb and happy for her to have this new opportunity. I carry her lessons and words of wisdom with me daily. I will forever hear "Go Katie Roo" in my head whenever I need some extra motivation."

MARIAH RICCI, 2013 GRAD >> "I find myself very lucky to have had Barb as my coach and mentor when I ran cross country and track in high school. She challenged us, and made us work harder than we could have ever imagined.

She made us tough, and not just physically, but mentally. She taught me that life was a lot like a race. It's going to be hard, and there will be ups and downs, but you must never give up.

She taught us that we are always stronger than we think we are, even when the finish line seems out of reach. More importantly she always believed in us, and that is something I, and I'm sure my other teammates, will forever be grateful for."

DEVIN STRYNKOWSKI 2014 GRAD >>"Having Barb as a coach basically changes your life and anyone who has had the pleasure to be coached by her understands what a sad moment it is for her to leave. She really built up this program over the years to make it great from state titles just to making a great sense of unity in what makes up a team. I think that her resigning is so sad but the legacy of what she's accomplished is so great she will always be remembered."

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE
Read or Share this story: http://www.gametimepa.com/story/high-school/lancaster-lebanon/sports/2015/07/06/cross-country-popular-palmyra-coach-mellinger-steps-down/75241940/