Ask John Koronkiewicz, Tom Chase and Scott Erickson why they have more than 50 years of coaching high school football under their belt between them and that’s what’ll come up first in the conversation.
All three will be on the sidelines for Waupaca, Weyauwega-Fremont and Iola-Scandinavia, respectively, as the Comets, Indians and Thunderbirds open the season at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 24. Waupaca will head to Winneconne, W-F will host Algoma and I-S is home against Rosholt at Thunderbird Field in Scandinavia.
Koronkiewicz is starting his 29th season as head coach in Waupaca, while Chase and Erickson are in their 20th seasons. The three coaches have combined to coach more than 600 regular-season and playoff games. Koronkiewicz has led the Comets to a pair of Division 3 state championships, while Erickson has taken his teams to a pair of state championship games and Chase took one of his teams to Level 4 of the state playoffs.
“I’m probably in football mode 12 months out of the year,” said Koronkiewicz, who was an assistant coach for several seasons before taking over as varsity coach in 1984 and is a member of the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
“The reason I keep coming back is I enjoy being out here with the young men I have an opportunity to work with,” he said. “I enjoy working with the assistant coaches that I have around me, they do an excellent job.”
Qualifying for the state playoffs for 21 consecutive seasons, the second-longest current streak in Wisconsin behind Menomomie (22 years), doesn’t hurt, either.
“We have a strong tradition of playing hard and we like to get the most out of ourselves,” Koronkiewicz said. “I think that’s the challenge year-in and year-out.”
“It’s the camaraderie you get with the kids,” Chase said. “You see the kids after they graduate and they come back and see you and tell you how their lives have been. The long-lasting relationships that you have with the kids is what really brings me back.
“There certainly are negatives that go with this job, but all those things outweigh the negatives by a mile,” he added. “If you keep focusing on the good kids and what they bring and they enjoyment that you get out of coaching them and seeing them get better not only as a player but as a person, that’s really what brings me back.”
Several of Erickson’s players have gone on to play college football, including Austen Lane, now in his third season with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.
“It’s a different recipe every year,” he said. “I love working with the kids and I love the challenge every year of putting together what it takes to be successful.”
“Just being out here with the guys, I get as much out of it as they do,” Koronkiewicz said. “They may not realize it, but I really do care what they’re doing, not only as players but as people. We want them to have an experience they can look back on and say, ‘You know, I enjoyed that.'”
• Season previews and schedules for the Comets, Thunderbirds and Indians can be found in the Thursday, Aug. 30, edition of the County Post West.