By Michael Buhler
It speaks well to the quality of coaching in our area when not one, not two or three, but four coaches were recognized for the efforts last school year.
Five local coaches have earned coach of the year honors. The Kansas Coaches Association has named Garden Plain’s Eric Rockers as the Girls Track Coach of the Year, Cheney’s Randy Leroux as the Girls Golf Coach of the Year, Eisenhower’s Tom Campa as the Baseball Coach of the Year, and Michael Justice as the Middle School Sports Coach of the Year. Cheney track coach Rich Simmons won the Kansas Cross Couintry Track and Field Coaches Association’s Class 3A Girls Track Coach of the Year award.
When Rich Simmons got a letter from the KCCTFCA recently, he didn’t realize it was naming the award winners. When he gave it a second look, he got a most pleasant surprise, as he was named the girls track Class 3A Coach of the Year for the state of Kansas.
“At first I thought it was just a ballot to vote on that award, because I hadn’t seen a ballot up to this point,” Simmons said. “I tossed it aside, then I picked it back up and looked at it again, and I was like, ‘They’re saying I already won.’ It was pretty neat. They largely go by how well your team performs at State. They’re not necessarily looking at anything beyond that. With us being in the trophies there at State, it gave me a shot to get something like that.”
Cheney track coach Rich Simmons earned coach of the year honors.
Garden Plain’s Eric Rockers also was named girls track Coach of the Year as his Lady Owls edged out Simmons’ Lady Cardinals for the Class 3A State title. Just a half-point separated the two teams.
Rockers won the award in his first year as Garden Plain’s head girls track coach. He also has served as an assistant coach in football and girls track prior to this spring.
“It was a pretty amazing and an unbelievable ride,” Rockers said. “I didn’t know at the beginning of the season we’d have a chance to compete for a championship. We got most of our points on Friday and Saturday was a waiting game – but it was all pretty amazing.”
Rockers is quick to credit those who compete for him for his success as a coach.
“Honestly, I think winning the award is less of a reflection of me than it is of my athletic director, my assistant coaches and the girls on the team,” Rockers said. “It’s a reflection of the program we have at Garden Plain.”
Rockers came to Garden Plain to teach technology after graduating from Pittsburg State, then got into coaching.
“It was a chance to work with kids outside of the classroom,” Rockers said. “You get to know them on a different level. A lot of kids I’ve gotten close to have been through coaching.”
Eisenhower High baseball coach Tom Campa won the award for baseball after leading his Tigers on a surprising run to the Class 5A State baseball tournament back in the spring. The Tigers entered regionals with a losing record, but won three games to reach the state’s final eight.
“I enjoyed this year’s team because they continued to get better each game,” Campa said. “Our seniors provided a strong balanced and made the underclassmen play at a high level.”
Campa had six seniors from that team sign to play college baseball for next season. That senior leadership came through at the right time for the Tigers.
“The one thing that stood out most about this squad is our pitching and defense,” Campa said. “When our pitching is on, our defense steps up to a high level. Our infield was filled with seniors. They wanted to win every game.”
Eisenhower baseball coach is shown with his son, Roman. Campa is the KCA Baseball Coach of the Year.
Campa has coached with the Goddard school district for 12 years, including the last two at Eisenhower High. Before that, he coached at South San Antonio High School, Wichita North, and at Allen Community College in Iola.
However, the coaching bug bit Campa at a young age.
“I started thinking about being a baseball coach in middle school,” Campa said. “I was inspired by my own high school coach in Newton, Kan., Rick Whitfield.”
Cheney’s Randy Leroux won his honor after leading the Lady Cardinals to a State runner-up finish at the Clas 3A State girls golf tournament last fall. Leroux was humbled and surprised to receive the honor.
“This past year was exciting and rewarding for the girls and myself,” Leroux said. “They were competitive with each other, plus willing to help each team member to play well. I believe this helped drive them to a better season.”
Leroux has coached girls golf at Cheney for 15 seasons, and coached in Moscow, Kan. and Cunningham before landing in Cheney.
“Coaching was a way to stay attached to athletes and athletics while teaching,” Leroux said.
Cheney girls golf coach is pictured with his team at the State meet last fall.
With several girls from last year’s squad slated to return this fall, the best might be yet to come for Leroux.
“I am looking forward to this season with a great bunch of girls that are returning that should be very competitive with our level across the state,” Leroux said.
Editor’s note: The Times-Sentinel was not able to reach Mike Justice for this story. We’ll have more on his award in an upcoming edition.