BY JEREMY SCHNEIDER MIRROR SPORTS — Ken Walczak doesn’t think he did anything special or outstanding during his 35 years as a coach and educator, but dozens and dozens of former players and students would agree to disagree with him.
Walczak will retire at the end of this school year, marking the end of 35 years as a teacher and coach. He said “it’s the right time” to step away.
“It’s hard to believe that it’s already 35 years of doing it,” he said. “It’s been a lot of fun, met a lot of really good people.
“It’s surreal. To do what I’ve done, where I’ve done it, at the school I played at, and to have my dad here at 88 (years old), it’s a blessing. I’m going out on my own terms and not a lot of people can say that.”
During its match last week against Clay, the Panthers wrestling program honored Walczak. Many of his former wrestlers, athletes and students came back to wish their former coach well in retirement.
Walczak called it “humbling” to see so many faces.
“I just did my job for all those years and obviously, I must have done some things to make an impact on people,” he said. “I don’t know what I did or how I did it, but it’s something they remember.
“I don’t think I did anything special. I was consistent. I treated people the way I like to be treated. Like the saying is, ‘Love, serve, care,’ and it’s true – it works.”
Walczak also brought up another one of his favorite sayings, “Kids don’t care how much you know, they know how much you care. That’s what I’ve tried to live my life by.”
One of Walczak’s former athletes is current Maumee athletic director Cam Coutcher. Walczak was Coutcher’s freshman football coach and his impact has never left Coutcher.
“You come across people in your life for a reason,” Coutcher said. “When he was my freshman football coach, you don’t see the impact he has at the time.
“When I came back and was coaching football and he was on the varsity staff, watching how he handles himself and how he treats people, he’s a role model.
“The impact he has in the classroom is amazing, too. Anything Walczak is everyone’s favorite class. I could go on and on.”
Walczak coached wrestling and football at Maumee. Four of his teams won Northern Lakes League titles, in 2002, ’03, ’08 and ’09. While he struggled to narrow down more than three decades of coaching into a few precious memories, he said those four teams were “really, really special.”
He had 10 individual wrestlers place at the state tournament and one state champion.
As an athlete, Walczak was a two-time NLL champion in wrestling and first team All-NLL in football. He played four years of football at Ashland University, where he started 21 games in two seasons.
He was named All-Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference twice as an offensive lineman, and he was a member of the 1986 NCAA Division II playoff team.
Walczak was the head wrestling coach at Maumee for 18 years, with an additional six years as an assistant. He coached the last two years at Gateway.
He was the 2003 Division II Ohio Coach of the Year.
“Sometimes we take a little bit of criticism because we hire a lot of Maumee alum, but (Walczak) is the reason you do that,” Coutcher said.
“I have so much passion for this place, too, and when you have people who have a passion for a place, the kids are going to have a better experience.”