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After 33 years, UAA’s only head gymnastics coach retires

UAA gymnastics coach Paul Stoklos, shown here with senior gymnast Morgan Cook, is retiring after 33 years with the team. (Bill Roth / Alaska Dispatch News)

The longest-serving coach in UAA history and the man who built Seawolves gymnastics from the ground up is retiring after more than three decades at the program's helm.

Since joining UAA in 1985 as its first gymnastics coach, Paul Stoklos turned the fledgling program into a Division II national contender and, in 2004, to UAA's third Division I sports program.

UAA athletic director Keith Hackett announced Wednesday that Stoklos has retired.

Stoklos, who had open-heart surgery in 2003, cited health and family as his primary reasons for hanging up the clipboard.

"I've given up a lot of my health from putting in long hours and long days and putting the athletes and program before myself," Stoklos said. "After 33 years it's time to put myself first.

"A lot of that stuff gets neglected — my mom is 90 and I don't see my brothers more than once every five years."

Stoklos, 59, said he plans to travel and spend time with his family but has no current plans to leave Anchorage, where his numerous endeavors include volunteering time as a ski patroller and training search-and rescue dogs.

For Stoklos' athletes — or "kids," as he affectionately calls them — he is more than a coach — he is a role model.

"Coach P, as we call him on the team … he's the first person to show up to the (Alaska) Airlines Center every morning and one of the last people to leave every night," said senior gymnast Morgan Ross. "You can tell his heart is in the gymnastics world and with the team."

Stoklos said his biggest challenge was recruiting in the 1980s when Anchorage was a smaller city and UAA was going through budget difficulties, similar to what the university faces today.

"Trying to convince kids to come to Alaska is a hard thing to do sometimes," he said.

Slowly, Stoklos turned UAA into a national contender. The Seawolves produced 13 All-Americans from 1985-2005, including national champions Elena Tkacheva, Jessica Simmons and Dominique Ingram.

Since transitioning to the Division I level, UAA has claimed 10 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation individual titles, one national individual title, one conference gymnast of the year award and two MPSF coach of the year awards for Stoklos.

Paul Stoklos, with dogs Mora, left, and LZ,  has been a volunteer with Alaska Search and Rescue Dogs for over 25 years.  (Bill Roth / Alaska Dispatch News)

Stoklos said he's as proud of what his athletes did in the classroom as what they did in the gym. Six Seawolves earned MPSF All-Academic honors last season, raising the team's number of academic certificates to 82 in the past 15 seasons.

"So often (academics) gets lost in winning meets and winning championships — the other stuff gets forgotten," Stoklos said. "But at the core of what we do is we teach students. I'm proud that we have kids committed to their schoolwork and do well."

Stoklos said financial uncertainties at the university added stress this year. Last August, Stoklos had just returned from a recruiting trip when he learned gymnastics might be cut at UAA.

Stoklos had to tell his recruits to find other schools.

"I got on the phone and called all the recruits and I told all them that I can't guarantee we will have a program in November," Stoklos said. "Every one of the recruits I saw on that trip has signed with another institution.

"November rolls around and they say they're not going to cut anything and I had to start over recruiting, which was really late to do that."

Ross said the team was shocked and sad to hear Stoklos is leaving. The school said it hopes to hire a new head coach soon.

"We're hoping he's happy in retirement, 'cause he's worked so hard, and he's stressed out by 18- to 22-year-old girls all the time," Ross said with a laugh. "We hope that we represent UAA the way that he's taught us to."

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