End of an era
‘Koronk’ looks back on coaching career
By Greg Seubert
John Koronkiewicz has coached his last football game for Waupaca High School.
Koronkiewicz, who has coached the varsity team the past 32 seasons, submitted his letter of resignation from the coaching position to WHS athletic director Carl Eggebrecht Jan. 7.
He has not resigned from his social studies teaching position at the school and will be back on the baseball diamond this spring to coach the varsity baseball team.
“The decision was very difficult,” Koronkiewicz said. “This has been an important part of my life from the day I walked into Waupaca. Unbelievably, that’s 40 years ago.
“It was an emotional decision,” he said. ”It was a decision I made after obviously thinking a lot about it. When I met with the guys last Tuesday and actually said the words, that was very emotional for me to actually say it out loud. To go back to my room and officially write a letter of resignation and send it to Carl, that was an emotional day. I’m still feeling the effects of it.”
Koronkiewicz, who spent eight seasons as an assistant football coach before taking the program over in 1984, coached the Comets to Division 3 state championships in 2006 and 2008. His teams also played for championships in 1994, 2002 and 2012 and his overall record is 265-88.
The ‘right time’
“You understand that time goes on and time catches up with really everyone and everything,” Koronkiewicz said. “I can say it’s the right time for me, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t miss everything connected to it.”
Under Koronkiewicz, the Comets made 25 straight playoff appearances, the second-longest current streak in Wisconsin. His teams also won 13 consecutive conference championships and 22 in all.
Koronkiewicz is also in the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
“One of the things I’ll miss the most is the day-to-day contact with players,” he said. “Fortunately for us, we won far more than we lost. You develop a special bond with the people that you get to see on a daily basis in a rather intimate environment. I’ll miss that part of it.
“I’ll miss the preparation that goes into preparing for a contest and getting your team ready, the challenge of doing that, even though that was hard at times,” he added. “You had to sacrifice and the rest of your coaching staff had to sacrifice in order to get your team as prepared as possible. You have to learn how to appreciate the grind of the preparation. You kind of learn to love that grind and I’ll miss that grind immensely.”
Voice from the past
“I happened to be here over the weekend, just sitting in my room,” Koronkiewicz said. “I got a phone call from Scott Starks, who was a player on that first time. We had a very nice conversation. It was rewarding to hear a voice and it was very kind of him to take the moment once he found out to even call. It was good.”
Starks is one of hundreds of players that can say they played high school football for Koronkiewicz.
Two of them are his sons, Marc and Mike.
“I always thought the greatest reward that I could ever ask for was to coach my two sons, to have them come up through the system and be successful,” he said. “We didn’t won a state title, but we won conference championships. For me, that was all I could ever ask for from a coaching and a father standpoint. I understand it’s difficult to separate the two and it was at times, but the reward of it was exceptional as well. To stand on the field in a game that you love and have your sons be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with you is exceptional.”
Mike is still involved in football, as he is the defensive coordinator at Badger High School in Lake Geneva.
“I think players are virtually the same wherever you go,” Koronkiewicz said. Players are players. Would I consider in a different kind of role coaching again? Obviously so. In the case of Mike, would I love to maybe help him out? Sure. I watched a couple of his games and I can tell you that he doesn’t need my help. He does a superb job on his own. I can tell that he’s studious about it, well-prepared and gets his kids prepared. I was very proud watching him do that. I’m not going to say that it won’t happen. We’ll just kind of wait and see.”
Importance of athletics
“Athletics has always been very important to me from the time I was little,” Koronkiewicz said. “Sometimes, it’s something that kids are born with. Others can try to develop it, but I always had a passion for it. I was a three-sport athlete (at Oconto High School). I always loved the competition, went on to college and played a little football and a little baseball at the collegiate level. I came here and just wanted the opportunity to stay involved in athletics. Coaching allowed me to do that.
“Quite frankly, I didn’t care what sport it was,” he said. “When I first got here, I coached football, basketball and baseball as an assistant. The first job that opened up for a head position is one I would have applied for. At one time, there was a basketball position open and I applied for it about my third year in. They decided to give it to someone else instead. Finally, I got a football opportunity and later a baseball opportunity and things went from there.”
Did Koronkiewicz think he’d coach for 40 years?
“When you first take a position, you’re just happy for a position,” he said. “There were some lean years in there. We were always trying to push in a particular direction, always tried to get the best out of our teams, always tried to make it a valuable, rewarding experience for everyone involved. You don’t think about the end. Initially, I kind of gave myself a three- to five-year window to turn things around. It took us four years to win a conference championship. From that point on, we’ve had one of the more successful programs in the entire state.”
Koronkiewicz has coached more than 300 games in his 32-year career as head coach.
“There were so many games, it’s hard to pick out one,” he said. “I think it would an injustice to try and pick out one. As a coach, I probably remember the disappointments more than the victories. As crazy as it sounds, for me, it was always the tough loss that stayed with me longer than the big win.
“Don’t ask me where the time has gone,” he added. “I can’t even tell you. This is my 40th year in Waupaca. There really is no other home for me. It’s home. There really will be no other football team for me. There’s only one.”
Only Menomonie, at 26 seasons, has a longer streak of qualifying for the WIAA playoffs than Waupaca’s 25 appearances.
“We kind of take it for granted,” Koronkiewicz said. “Twenty-five in a row is a tremendous accomplishment. Football is a little different, not everybody makes it. It’s the only sport where you have to earn your way in. To do that 25 years in a row is a phenomenal streak that I hope continues. Sometimes, you just get in and it’s an accomplishment. We worked our tail off (this season) to make the playoffs.”
Many of the Comets’ wins took place at Haberkorn Field.
“Haberkorn was a tremendous place to play,” Koronkiewicz said. “It truly was a home field advantage. If you take a look at our record at Haberkorn Field, we were tough to beat there. We wanted it that way. When we transitioned to the new high school from the old high school, we used to have the walk. We’d walk those two blocks. That was awesome to be able to do that. Getting on a bus and traveling over is a little different, but once you get on that field over there, that’s a very special place.”
Koronkiewicz isn’t sure if he’ll attend the team’s upcoming games.
“I don’t know,” he said. “That will be very, very difficult for me. I can tell you it would be hard.”
The Comets’ first new head coach since 1984 means things will be different for players and fans.
“Things will be different, but the comforting thing is things are only different for a short time and then they become the same,” Koronkiewicz said. “The only thing I would hope is kids continue to work hard, continue to take pride in the program, continue to love the game, continue to give their best. That’s what it’s all about.”