TROJAN BOYS BASKETBALL: Saying goodbye to Coach Vorwald
WORTHINGTON -- When one stops to think about all of the people that a long-time teacher or coach has interacted with or built some type of relationship with over the years, it's easy to see why that person doesn't only focus on the end result.
Teaching and coaching is much more than a final grade or the win-loss column. Just ask Worthington's Ron Vorwald, who is retiring this spring after a 36-year career as a teacher and coach -- with the last 30 of those years coming as a Trojan.
"The biggest thing that I will take away from my career as an educator is all of the relationships that I've been able to build with students and players over the years," said Vorwald. "That's a big reason why I wanted to teach and coach. I've been able to help so many young people and then see them go on to become successful in life after their playing days are over -- that's what makes this profession so rewarding."
The impact that Vorwald had during his tenure at Worthington was clearly evident on March 2 when several of his former players were in attendance for the Trojan boys' basketball playoff game against Windom -- Vorwald's final home game as head coach of the school's hoops team, a position he has held for the last 24 years.
Vorwald amassed a record of 364 wins and 212 losses -- a winning percentage of .632 and an average of 15 wins per season -- during that time and is quick to give credit for his success to those that helped him along the way.
"I've been successful because of all the great assistant coaches and tremendous players that I've been able to work with over the years," Vorwald said. "I tried to come up with a list of the top 10 or even top 20 players that I've coached and I couldn't do it because I kept thinking of more and more people to include. There have been so many good players who were also wonderful people and the same can also be said about my assistant coaches."
Success as a high school, college player
Vorwald grew up on a dairy farm near Bloomington, Wisconsin and graduated from Bloomington High School in 1972. An athlete growing up, Vorwald and his teammates experienced great success in high school.
Bloomington won Wisconsin's small-school (two classes) state basketball championship during Vorwald's senior season and the football team went a combined 18-0 in the falls of 1970 and 1971.
"We had a great group of guys who enjoyed playing ball together," said Vorwald, who also competed in track and field in addition to baseball during the spring and summer. "We also had great coaches who were fresh out of college and who I really looked up to and had great relationships with. They influenced me to pursue a teaching and coaching career, as I wanted to have those same types of relationships with my players."
Vorwald earned a scholarship to play football (middle linebacker) at Iowa State University and played two years with the Cyclones before transferring to Mankato State University and playing his final two years with the Mavericks.
Vorwald, who married his wife Kris in 1976, graduated from MSU with a degree in physical education (PE) in the spring of 1977 and landed his first teaching job in Fort Dodge, Iowa the following fall.
Getting a start at Worthington; working
After six years of teaching junior high PE and coaching football, basketball and track at the ninth-grade level in Fort Dodge, Vorwald and his family moved to Worthington -- where he accepted a PE teaching job at the high school -- in the fall of 1983 and has been here ever since.
"I started out as an assistant football and track coach and also coached seventh-grade basketball in Don Basche's program," Vorwald said. "I always had a dream of being a head coach some day and that dream became a reality after Don stepped down following an outstanding 28-year career as head coach and they offered me his position, beginning with the 1989-1990 season."
Basche also served as the Trojans' athletic director late in his teaching career and remembers well when Worthington hired Vorwald.
"We felt that Ron deserved an opportunity to coach at the varsity level," Basche said. "He did a good job with the junior-high teams and had lots of experience, both as a former player and as a coach. He's done a good job over the last 24 years and really got a lot out of the kids that's he has coached."
Mike Traphagen, who was Vorwald's assistant coach longer than anyone else during that time (16 years) and is also retiring this spring after a 34-year career in education, has lots of fond memories while working with the Trojan boys' basketball team.
"Ron and I started together -- we learned a lot from each other and had a lot of great times," said Traphagen, who spent several seasons coaching multiple sports in addition to his current role as Worthington's athletic director. "We shared a lot of similar ideas, and I always felt like Ron respected my opinion and asked for suggestions. Seeking input from others and constantly trying to learn is something that Ron has always done."
Upon taking the head coaching job, Vorwald put in a lot of time and effort to prepare his team and set a foundation for what was to come, not only at the beginning of his career, but also over the next 24 seasons.
"Trap and I wanted the Worthington basketball team to be known for our hard-nosed, man-to-man defense," Vorwald said. "We also wanted to be an excellent rebounding team that was known for its toughness and its ability to play extremely hard all the time. Our focal points have always been defense and rebounding -- and Mike helped get that started and maintained as my assistant for so long."
Those cornerstones remain in place to this day, as Vorwald -- who noted the importance of having a loyal and dedicated assistant like Traphagen for so many years -- always pointed to defense and rebounding as being the keys to a successful season.
"Ron demanded that his teams work very hard, and of course, play good defense," Traphagen said. "He led by example because no one worked harder than him when it came to coaching. His work ethic rubbed off on his players and he wanted that same mental approach toward basketball to carry over into other areas of life, as well.
"I really enjoyed working with Ron," Traphagen continued. "It was always about the kids with Ron, and that's what it should be about really. He treated them all the same -- no one more important than the other -- and stressed that everyone has a role on the team."
Vorwald, who always appreciated the effort put forth by his reserve players in practice, said that he never stopped learning and always tried new ideas as he gained more and more experience throughout his career.
"I thought I knew a lot about basketball when I first started, but I quickly realized how little I knew once I really got into it," Vorwald said. "I spent a lot of time going to clinics, watching film and talking to other coaches so that I could improve. I was constantly trying to get better and wanted my players to do the same thing."
Three trips to state;
former players later
Vorwald experienced a lot of success in his 24 years on the Trojans' sideline and rarely had a team finish a season with a losing record -- often times finishing near the top of the Southwest Conference standings and vying for a section championship.
Worthington advanced to the state tournament three times in Vorwald's tenure, with the first trip to the Twin Cities coming in 1994. Doug Brands, a 6-7 senior post on that squad who also played on Vorwald's final seventh-grade team in 1989, was later an assistant coach for nine seasons in the Worthington program.
"I was able to see Ron as a coach from two different perspectives," Brands said. "I certainly learned a lot as a player, from fundamentals to life lessons. But then as an assistant, I got to see all of the behind-the-scenes things that most people don't realize goes into coaching -- there's much more to it than just showing up on game day.
"Ron put an immense amount of time into coaching, both during the season and in the offseason, and had a wealth of knowledge that he was always willing to share," Brands continued. "He helped out a young coach like myself a great deal and gave me ideas for drills to use in practice and tips on game strategy, for example."
Clint Meyer, who was a varsity starter for the Trojans for four seasons and has been an assistant coach under Vorwald for the last six years, helped lead Worthington to the state tournament in 1998 as a 6-6 junior post.
"Ron has a passion for and a commitment to kids -- he really cares about guys on and off the basketball court," Meyer said. "He is able to get the most out of his players and push them to get better. Ron believes that if you work hard, good things are going to happen for you in all aspects of life, not just basketball."
Vorwald's most recent group to advance to the state tournament was the 2012 team, and current B-squad coach Zach Dingmann noted how much he's enjoyed coaching the last four seasons at Worthington.
"I've played basketball my entire life and I learned more about the game as an assistant under Ron than I ever have before," Dingmann said. "He was always well-prepared and knew how to defend every team or how to attack them offensively -- his basketball intelligence is incredible. It has truly been an awesome experience to work with Ron."
Dennis Hale, who was the Trojans' head football coach for more than 30 seasons, was also an assistant coach at the freshman and B-squad levels for many years in Vorwald's basketball program.
"Dennis and I had a great relationship and he was a big part of Trojan basketball," said Vorwald, who was the defensive coordinator for Hale's football team for close to 20 years, as well. "He was very instrumental in helping our younger players develop sound fundamentals and was a real asset to our program."
Hale has similar feelings toward Vorwald, as the two coached together in the fall and winter for a long time.
"Ron was very good at whatever he coached, and his basketball record speaks for itself," Hale said. "His teams were always well-disciplined and the players knew that they had to give it everything they had when they played for Ron. He had a great career in Worthington and sure has a lot to be proud of -- all the guys that came back for his final home game tells you everything that you need to know about the kind of impact he had as a teacher and a coach here."
Coaching his three sons; receiving support from
his wife Kris
While Vorwald didn't want to single out any particular players or teams that he has coached over the years, he did relish the opportunity to coach all three of his sons.
Andy (1998 graduate), Mike (2009 graduate) and Jon (2013 graduate) each played for Ron and were key parts of some very successful teams.
"It was very special for me to have a chance to coach my three sons," Ron said. "My oldest son, Andy, didn't get to play a lot in games, but he was great in practice and helped push the starters. He was in a very good class of players and worked really hard to help the team strive to become better each day."
Mike and Jon were both multiple-year starting guards and earned All-Southwest Conference honors during their playing days.
"Mike was a terrific player who did things that you can't coach -- he could really pass the ball," Ron said. "Jon turned into a very good player and was our best perimeter defender this past season. Coaching my sons was definitely a major highlight of my career."
Ron's daughter Katie (2003 graduate) also played basketball, and although he didn't get to coach her in high school, Ron enjoyed the special father-daughter relationship that they've always shared together.
"Basketball, and sports in general, has always been big in our family," Ron said. "All of our kids, I think, were a product of their environment. They went to my games when they were youngsters, sat on Mom's lap and watched the game -- they were enthralled with basketball at an early age."
Ron's biggest fan has been and will always be Mom -- his wife Kris. Ron said that Kris has been the head coach of the family all these years.
"She has been so supportive and understanding of me and what I've done," Ron said. "She doesn't always agree with me, but she is there to remind me of what's really important. If I get caught up in wins and losses from time to time, Kris is there to remind me of the reasons why I coach."
Mike has many great memories of going to games as a young kid and then having the chance to play for his dad in high school.
"Mom always took us to Dad's games and she rarely missed a home game -- she was so supportive," Mike said. "I was also able to go to lots of practices and open gyms with my dad. That was one of my favorite things as a kid, and I learned so much about basketball growing up.
"I loved playing for my dad -- he's the best coach I've ever had and I'd say that even if he wasn't my dad," Mike continued. "He is my idol, and I respect him so much as a coach and a person. Trojan basketball has been a huge part of our lives and our relationship together."
Players, opposing coach
with high admiration
Nicholas Raymo, who was a three-year starting guard for Vorwald and graduated from Worthington in 2003, was one of several players with high praise for their former coach.
"Coach 'V' wasn't just a coach -- he was a mentor and a guy you could look up to," Raymo said. "He wanted to see all of his players be successful on the basketball court, but more importantly, he also wanted them to be successful in life. He believed in people and tried to get the most out of you by pushing you to work hard and find your individual talents -- and then blend those in with the rest of the team."
C.J. Nelson, who played with Raymo and graduated in 2004, noted how important defense was with Vorwald.
"Ron was an intense coach who rewarded guys who played hard -- especially on defense," Nelson said. "Defense was a priority and you weren't going to see much playing time if you didn't buy into playing defense. He expected you to try your best in everything you did."
There was also a lighter side to Vorwald's coaching style, something that Jalen Voss, a 2011 graduate, talked about and was thankful for while developing as a person throughout high school.
"Ron motivated us to work hard every day and no doubt helped us become better players," Voss said. "But he also joked around a lot and had fun with us. He took the whole team bowling one time instead of having practice -- he just knew when the team needed a little change of pace or a good laugh."
Travis Meinders, a 2010 graduate, also shared the close relationship he has with Vorwald.
"Ron is almost like a second father to me -- he is always there to help you, no matter what," Meinders said. "He helped me grow as a person throughout high school and prepared me for life. He was a great leader for me and my teammates, both on and off the court."
Jamie Pap, who played for Southwest Christian in the late '90s and has been the Eagles' head coach for the last eight years, always loved playing against the Vorwald-coach Trojans.
"Ron is such a competitor and it was always a battle when Worthington and Southwest Christian played," Pap said. "Both teams try to play the same type of 'in-your-face,' man-to-man defense, and the gym was always packed. I have tons of respect for Ron and the program that he runs -- I'll certainly miss coaching against him, that's for sure."
Decision to retire now;
There were a number of factors that went into Vorwald's decision to retire now. One of the major reasons is that he wants more time to be able to watch some of his former athletes play basketball in college.
"It was not an easy decision," Vorwald said. "My dreams of being a head coach became a reality in Worthington, and I'll be forever grateful to the school district and the community for giving me the opportunities that I've had here. But I think that I'm ready for the next chapter in my life."
Vorwald said he plans to remain active in several of his hobbies, which include golfing and painting with his buddy Dave Cummings in the summer time. He also has several books at home and plans to catch up on some reading in addition to several "honey-do" lists around the house that Kris has waiting for him.
He also plans on attending Trojan sporting events and remaining an avid fan of the local players and teams.
"I'll still be one of the biggest Trojan fans around," Vorwald said. "Kris is going to keep on teaching (at Prairie Elementary), and we'll continue to support the school and community. This has been a great place to raise our family, and we've really been blessed to be surrounded by so many good people and things in Worthington.
"It's been a flat-out joy for me to teach and coach here for as long as I did," Vorwald continued. "There were far more good times than bad times, and I'll be able to look back with many fond memories. I will miss coaching, especially having a chance to interact with the kids on a daily basis and helping them strive to become better people who know how to work hard and be successful in life."