An All-Ohio performance (13th) as a freshman at the 1976 State Championship in Cross Country left little doubt that Earl Zilles was going to be something special. The team State Championship title won by West Liberty Salem HS would be the first of three State Championship titles helped by Earl’s efforts. His freshman year on the track was just as promising with a 3rd place two mile effort (9:54.3) at the State Championships.
Coming off a stress fracture injury his sophomore year, Earl was undeafeated his junior year before winning the State Cross Country Meet in 12:06.7 for 2.5 miles. The summer before his senior year, Earl ran a 9:15 two mile at the AAU Junior Olympics at the University of Nebraska to finish 6th. His senior year was nearly flawless as he was defeated only twice – once by George Nicholas and once by John Ziska – en route to defending his State Championship title. Earl finished his high school career with an 11:42.2 PR for 2.5 miles.
On the track, Earl lived up to the expectations coming out of his freshman year. As a sophomore, he finished 7th in the mile (4:28.3) and 3rd in the two mile (9:27.8). In his junior year, he won both the mile (4:21.4) and two mile (9:25.6) State Championship titles. Plagued by a low back injury his senior year, Earl was forced to focus on the two mile but still defended his title winning the 1980 State Championship.
All told, Earl won five individual State Championship titles and was part of three State Championship teams. He earned All-Ohio honors nine times before continuing his career at the University of Houston. In NCAA competition, Houston went to the NCAA Championship Meet as a team in 1980 and then in 1981, Earl qualified as an individual. In 1982, Earl earned All-SWC honors finishing 3rd in the steeplechase (9:04). Returning home, Earl coached cross country and track at West Liberty Salem from 1982-1984 where several athletes qualified to the State Championships including eventual winner, Maria Newcomer, in cross country and in the 1984 3200M.
Earl presently lives in Bellefontaine, Ohio.