‘Mack made a difference in a lot of young people’s lives’
MT. PLEASANT—Mack Wilkey, a legendary coach and teacher at North Sanpete High School, died last Wednesday, Feb. 9, at 93.
During 19 years at North Sanpete, Wilkey coached basketball, football, track, boxing, swimming and tennis, as well as teaching driver’s education.
But he was best known for basketball—and for the life lessons he taught students, often by example.
“He had [life] figured out,” said Eddie Cox, a manager of North Sanpete’s 1969 state championship basketball team and now general manager of CentraCom Interactive. “He knew what the right things were to do in life and what made him happy, and that’s how he lived his life. Mack made a difference in a lot of young people’s lives in the community.”
Cox said even though he was a manager, not a player, Wilkey made him feel he was making a difference to the team. Wilkey frequently quoted the maxim, “A chain is no stronger than its weakest link.”
“Coach taught us to never give up and [to] abide by the rules and be good students,” said George Dyches, a player on the 1969 team. “Some serious knee injuries occurred during the 1969 basketball season, and Coach Wilkey sacrificed time and resources to the rehabilitation of those players.”
Wilkey lived the ethic of persistence himself as a high school athlete. He was initially cut from the basketball team at Juab High School, but after but after hours of practice, made the team. He went on the play at Snow College and Utah State University.
Wilkey joined the North Sanpete faculty in 1954. Three years later, he took the basketball to the state tournament for the first time since 1926. Over the following 16, his teams went to state nine times. But it wasn’t until 1969 that the Hawks won the championship.
Following that feat, Wilkey was named High School Coach of the Year in Utah and later inducted into the Utah Sports Hall of Fame. He retired from coaching in 1972.
In 2004, years after retirement, Wilkey talked with the Sanpete Messenger about the cabbage patch dolls, Sandy and Pete, which had been exchanged by Manti and North Sanpete High School as part of the two schools’ basketball rivalry.
After each Manti-North Sanpete game, the winning school got the dolls until the next game. The tradition, with quite a few variations and modifications, went back 90 years. Then principals at both high schools decided the rivalry was starting to get out of hand and retired the Sandy and Pete dolls.
“I hate to see it end,” Wilkey told the newspaper. “Maybe what they need is to get Wilbur and I back in there. I bet we could straighten things out.” The Wilbur he referred to was Wilbur Braithwaite, a legendary coach at Manti High.
In 2006, after Wasatch Academy acquired the freestanding building that had been the North Sanpete gymnasium, the school renamed the building the Brunger-Wilkey Center after Ernest Brunger, a coach at Wasatch from 1924-39 and Mack Wilkey.
In 2019, 50 years after the state championship in 1969, North Sanpete High School honored Wilkey and team members at half time during a basketball game.
Wilkey’s love for his wife, MorRae Blain, was apparent to just about everyone who encountered them in the community. She supported him throughout his coaching career. They sang duets at funerals and family gatherings. After he retired, they served together for 15 years in the Manti Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Wilkey served in many positions in the church, including bishop of a Mt. Pleasaant ward and of a Snow College student ward, in the Mt. Pleasant Stake High Council, as a seminary teacher and Cub Scout master.
When word got out about his passing, numerous former students posted comments on social media.
“Coach Wilkey was quite the man. I don’t think any of us can say a bad word about him,” wrote Shirley Pitcher.
Karyn Angell of Salt Lake City wrote that she always considered it an honor when Wilkey kept a poster she made for driver’s education showing a “massive red light, complete with rays; a cartoonish Corvette with a ginormous gearshift; and a happy race car driver.” The caption read, “Always stop for red lights, especially if they’re on the back of a BIG truck.”
“Mr. Wilkey laughed and laughed,” she wrote.
Cynthia DeGray, past mayor of Spring City, wrote, “We have an excellent basketball team this season, and wouldn’t it be a fitting tribute to Coach Wilkey to have our boys take state again this year? …Let’s go Hawks. Together we are Hawk strong!!”