Spartan alum share memories of longtime UW-Parkside coach Jim Koch

From left: Justin Schroeder, Chris Buckley, Steve Kimpel, Rob Kimpel and Joel Dutton

Wisconsin wrestling lost a legendary coach and even better man last month with the passing of former UW-Parkside wrestling coach Jim Koch.  The Rangers coach from 1970 until his retirement in 2011 was hit by a car while running between sessions at the division one wrestling tournament in St. Louis, Missouri.  Koch was the first wrestling coach at Parkside.  He coached 68 wrestlers to the national tournament and accumulated 277 dual meet victories in his 41 seasons.

Jim Koch

His wrestlers earned 128 All-American honors, 80 Academic All-American honors and 14 times his wrestlers won national championships.  His teams finished ranked in the top 10 at the end of 23 seasons.  He was inducted into the Wisconsin-Parkside Athletic Hall of Fame in 2012 and he is also a member of the NCAA division two wrestling hall of fame, the NAIA wrestling hall of fame and many others.

During his time at Parkside, Koch coached a number of Spartan wrestlers who have great memories of the coach.  Steve Kimpel, Rob Kimpel, Justin Schroeder, Chris Buckley and Joel Dutton all wrestled for Coach Koch.  Four of them–Steve Kimpel (25th), Joel Dutton (56th), Rob Kimpel (96th) and Justin Schroeder (134th) were named to the program’s top 150 wrestlers in 2008.

Below, the five Spartan alumni who wrestled for Coach Koch share their thoughts on their time at Parkside and what Koch meant to them.

Steve Kimpel
Former head wrestling coach at Colorado School of Mines and Wabash College.  He currently teaches in the Exercise and Sports Science department at Brigham Young University-Idaho.  As an athlete, he was a three-time collegiate All-American and trained briefly with athletes at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  In 2007, he received the Coaching Excellence Award from the National Wrestling Coaches Association.  He wrote the book Wrestle and Win: The Wrestler’s Guide to Strength, Conditioning, Nutrition and College Preparation.

As a Spartan, Kimpel was a two-time MVC first team wrestler and three-time state qualifier.  At the collegiate level, Kimpel was a two-time All-American at UW-Parkside finishing 4th in the nation at 158 pounds in 1994 and 5th in the nation at 150 pounds in 1993.  In 1995, Kimpel earned his third All-American honor finishing 4th in the nation in division two at 158 pounds for the University of Southern Colorado.

My name is Steve Kimpel and I wrestled at 158 lbs for Coach Koch between 1988 and 1994. As I have thought about Coach almost continually over the last week and particularly in the last 48 hours, the thing that comes to my mind most frequently is his character ethic. Obviously those who know him observed that he lived it to a fault.  In fact, it was one of the idiosyncrasies that I think prevented us from appreciating him fully during our time as student-athletes.

His diligence in never missing a day of running, a weekly celebration of Mass, and other regular devotions was something that stood out to me and was inspirational.  Because of some things I have adopted, I’ve benefited from doing several of what I call “minute miracles” the effects of which have been great after several years.

Among Coach’s spoken gems were two that have been written on my mind, the first of which came when I felt I was in a personal crisis.  He listened somewhat distractedly, which was his typical body language, and then said, “Ya know Steve, I’ve kind of learned over the years that things are rarely as bad as they seem and rarely as good as they seem.” And there it was.  Nothing had changed with regard to the situation plaguing me, but I walked away with a little more hope, and in the end he was right.  I have thought of that many times in the years since then and it has always helped me to start thinking a little more rationally.

The second bit of wisdom he imparted that imprinted on me came at the beginning of the 1993-94 school year when our team entered wrestling season ranked number one in the country and were picked to win the national tournament.  During one of our early season meetings Coach presented us with a document detailing what the acronym WIN was to mean for us going forward.  It stood for “What’s Important Now?” What was intriguing to me was that most of the document outlined things we should be doing off the mat more than on the mat.  Coach truly was interested in our development as people not just athletes.

Kimpel at one of his wrestling camps in Sparta.

in attending that initiated discussions of a wrestling scholarship.  However, I planned to serve a church mission for two years between my freshmen and sophomore years and all but a few programs said they would not scholarship me if I would be leaving.  However, I think Coach was kind of intrigued by the idea and offered the scholarship. This is not remarkable until one understands his next investment in me.

The second investment he made in me was one for which he would get no return.  At the end of my junior year, I was a two-time All-American and the highest returning national place winner in the country at my weight class. However, I also had a chance to move to Colorado Springs to train with the Resident Athlete Program, which was a new program for Greco-Roman wrestlers at the Olympic Training Center. Originally, I planned to forgo my last year of collegiate eligibility and focus on Greco-Roman, but ultimately decided to wrestle my last year in college while I was training for Greco.

I asked for an appointment with Coach and outlined my plan along with a request for a release university so I could talk with the University of Southern Colorado (now Colorado State).  We talked for an hour or so, and although I had been nervous to approach him he mostly had a lot of questions and some encouragement.  There were so many things he could have said, such as the fact that he funded me before and after a two-year mission and included a red-shirt year, or that he was one of only a handful of coaches who didn’t withdraw the scholarship offer when they learned of my mission.   He also could have brought up many dumb things I did my freshman year, but he didn’t.  I learned later that he took some criticism from members of the team, a few alumni, and some administrators for giving me the release to accept a scholarship with USC.

I still don’t know what made him willing to do that, but ironically that was a major turning point in my athletic career and changed how I began to view Coach and my relationship with him. I began to think about the various character attributes and wisdom in life he possessed.  A few years later I tore my ACL at the Olympic Training Center and began into coaching myself, first as an assistant for a program and then as head coach for two other universities.  In my new role, I found myself once again looking to Coach for advice on everything from how to run an event to how to handle problem athletes or high-pressure administrators.

He was certainly not a gifted conversationalist and more than once he might actually doze off in the middle of a conversation.  Notwithstanding those quirks his outlook on life and how to react to things was predictable, steady, and often right, when viewed in the big picture.

I might take a moment and speak about how I’ve been treated by the wrestling program after I left.  Given that I spent the next dozen years either competing or coaching against  Wisconsin-Parkside, mostly at larger events such as the National Duals, the Midwest Classic, or the NCAA Championships, one would think that the athletes and coaches would have turned a cold shoulder to me.  However, it has been quite the contrary.  I have been welcomed with gracious hospitality to any wrestling program event over the last twenty-three years.  That speaks to me of the great culture of family in that program, which I think owes itself to the way Coach ran the program.  There were definitely frustrating experiences, but I cannot think of a more perfect set of experiences (the good and the bad) to bond people together in a way that endures.

Learning of Coach Koch’s accident and passing was much more difficult for me than I would have expected, but even in this there has come a lesson for me about what I can learn from the untimely death of a great person.  Had Coach Koch live another twenty years I doubt I would have spent as much time thinking about the life lessons he has taught me.  I seldom reflect much on the passing of someone for whom a goodly age tolls the bell.  With the passing of Coach, I have spent many hours thinking not only about things I learned from him (and easily an equal number of silly things he did) but I’ve also thought about how he was basically an ordinary man who leaves such a legacy because his job and his habits allowed him to do such great service for many athletes who might have had much less direction at that time in their lives.  I was one of them in spite of all having good parents and excellent mentors in my high school program.  This gives me an example to follow in my various roles.

For the last 20 years or so I have hoped that my actions would bring honor to those who have invested in me–a list people which includes Coach Koch.  Even the possibility that he and a few others who have passed away might be aware of my decisions at various points in the future is motivating and something I take seriously.

Sincerely,

Steve Kimpel
Rexburg, Idaho
(formerly of Sparta, Wisconsin)

 

Joel Dutton
Elementary school teacher in the Kenosha, Wisc. school district.  Head wrestling coach at Kenosha Tremper High School.  After graduating from Parkside, Dutton stayed on for one season as a grad assistant in the wrestling program.  He spent two years as an assistant wrestling coach at Racine Horlick, was an assistant coach for two years at Parkside and just finished his 14th season as head coach at Kenosha Tremper.  He is now in his 19th year of teaching.

At Parkside, Dutton finished 4th in the nation at 126 pounds in 1993.  As a Spartan, he was a two-time MVC first team wrestler, a two-time state qualifier with a third place finish at 125 pounds in 1989.  He ranks 13th all-time in Spartan history with 114 career victories.

Not sure where to start; I’m deeply saddened. Coach recruited me and Steve, Buck, Justin and Rob because he believed in us, he saw in us potential and not just because of our wrestling abilities but our character.  Our coaches, Zurf, Mont, and Mr Smith prepared us well and he recognized that. Coach then filled the void when we left our families and came to college; he became our family.  He always was there to help with anything we had going on that was important to us and just being a friend.  Most importantly, he made me see the importance of graduating.

I thought when I stepped on campus that wrestling was the degree I was pursuing; I still had goals I wanted to reach and that was my priority.  He made me see the big picture that I can reach my goals and set myself up for life after wrestling…and it wasn’t easy, we had lots of discussions and I still think about the impact those conversations had on where I’m at today.  Conversations were what made Coach such a unique and great person.  He could talk with anyone and often did…I remember countless times when we’d finish weighing in and we’re ready to go eat but couldn’t because Coach was still talking with someone…”Come on Coach, we’re hungry,” someone would yell.  It seemed most times I’d stop in to see him there was people already talking with him or a waiting line to chat with him. Incredibly, he was also the master of falling asleep during a conversation wrestling trips and a little while later waking up and not missing a beat about the topic of discussion…but as I think back, he probably never slept because people were always calling on him and he was always there for them regardless the time or place.

Coach definitely left us with a lot of great experiences in wrestling as well.  I was part of teams that were ranked number 1 in the country and also became and ALL American in the process. We traveled across the country and wrestled in 15 different states and like a family stopped and visited all the big attractions while on the road.  We also wrestled many tournaments with the D1 powerhouses like Iowas, UW, Okie State, Missouri, etc…that always made us feel our worth even if we got beat up a little bit.  And even when it was all over, Coach was still there for me when I started my own journey after Parkside.  He supported me as a coach, father and husband.

I still can’t believe he is gone and I wish we could have one more talk, but I will always appreciate everything he did for me and never forget him.  Love ya Coach!

Thanks,
Joel Dutton
Gr. 5 Teacher – Jefferson Elem.
Wrestling Coach – Kenosha Tremper HS
Wrestling Coach – Kenosha Wrestling Club

 

Dutton (left) and Schroeder (right) after Dutton’s Kenosha Tremper team won team sectionals in 2011.

Justin Schroeder
Justin is a certified nurse anesthetist at Prairie Du Sac, Wisconsin.  As a Spartan, he was the program’s first state champion and first two-time state champion.

Coach gave me an opportunity to wrestle with 4 other alum at the college level.  That’s an experience I wouldn’t trade.  When I think about it, so many great memories.  I earned a scholarship that really provided me a future, as I’m not sure how my family could’ve afforded my college education at the time. That was a direct result of my previous teammates, and coach listening and taking the time to recruit me. My kids have benefited greatly from that extension, and if/when they choose to continue their education at the higher level, I’ll be able to provide for them.

I’d like to thank coach for allowing me to participate as a student assistant for two seasons after I was done competing. It gave me an opportunity to coach at the university level, and really start me where I am today.  Still hanging around the wrestling room, influencing young wrestlers, encouraging them to reach their goals, and compete at the next level.  Like I said, I have many great memories, and that’s what life is all about. Coach was a trivia savant, and always had the answer.  His itinerary on road trips was incredible too say the least.  Somehow he found himself in the middle of our pranks more than once.  Does anyone remember the hotel mattress switch on Koch?  Or the Mexican place in the basement of an Italian place in Canada. I recall the spicy rice, followed up with vinegar in the water glass, yikes!  Coach was never going to pass up leftovers on the table.  Although I agree with him, that was “dang dirty pool.”

Gotta thank Coach for so many things I have now, that I didn’t necessarily appreciate at the time.  Wish I could have seen him one more time, so close being at the same venue and just didn’t meet up yet.

 

Chris Buckley
Facilities Shop Supervisor at UW-Eau Claire.  He holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from UW-Parkside.  As a Spartan, Buckley was a two-time MVC first team wrestler and made his only trip to the state tournament count with a runner-up finish at 152 pounds in 1989.

You know I just really appreciate the help he gave me in getting a college degree.   He really stressed to me the importance of leaving UW-Parkside with a degree.  Every Christmas he would send me and I am sure a great deal of his former wrestlers a letter to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and he would also update everyone on what he had been up to in the last year.  I really enjoyed hearing about his extensive traveling with his girlfriend Donna, his dogs, etc.  I am really going to miss those letters.

 

Rob Kimpel
Rob currently lives in the Phoenix, Arizona area and is a licensed, public insurance adjuster with the Arizona Department of Insurance.  As a Spartan, Rob was an MVC first team selection in 1989, a two-time state qualifier with a 4th place finish at 152 pounds in 1990 and a runner-up finish at 152 in 1991.  He finished 5th in the nation at 150 pounds at UW-Parkside in 1993.

Coach Koch was a great man who had a profound influence on so many lives.  He invested in me and believed in me when I didn’t really believe in myself.

Although we did not communicate regularly, we had spoken by phone several times over the past 20+ years.  He was always glad to hear from me and sincerely interested in my family and my career and seems so  surprised that I didn’t end up homeless.

Coach will definitely be missed.  My thought and prayers go out to all of his family, friends and UW Parkside family alike.