DeWitt leaving for EHS
Most Tonganoxie High School wrestlers will return next season, but the man who helped build the program will take his tools elsewhere.
Bill DeWitt, Tonganoxie's wrestling coach the last five years, has been named the new wrestling coach at Eudora. DeWitt replaces Ron Abel, who will become an administrator in the Eudora school district, where he's also taught social studies.
DeWitt commuted from his home in Eudora throughout his tenure at Tonganoxie. Although he wasn't searching for a new position, he said being close to home was a major factor in making the move. DeWitt and his wife, Amy, have two daughters Anna, 22 months, and Sophie, who was born March 8.
"Coming home, spending time with my girls getting home a little earlier in the evening," DeWitt said. "You just can't trade that."
But deciding to leave the Tonganoxie program wasn't easy.
"It was hard to tell my wrestlers," DeWitt said. "That was one of the hardest things I've had to do."
Andrew Miller, a junior on this year's team, found out with the rest of his team in a team meeting Thursday that DeWitt was leaving. Miller said the news left him in tears.
"I was kind of stunned, but I'm happy for him," Miller said. "But yet I'm not because I hate to see him go."
Miller started wrestling in the seventh grade and said DeWitt had helped the team steadily improve.
"When I first got there, it was basically 'It's all Greek to me,'" Miller said. "As the years went on, he started expecting more from us.
"We get the hang of it, and then it's great and then he's gone."
The Chieftains won't face their former coach unless they meet at regionals or state. Eudora is in the Frontier League, while Tonganoxie's in the Kaw Valley League. The schools did not compete in the same regionals this year.
Tonganoxie made strides in DeWitt's five years. In 1998, the Chieftains' dual record was 3-9. The next year, Tonganoxie went 4-8, then 7-5 in 2000. Last season, the team finished 8-3-1 and second in the KVL. This year was DeWitt's most successful, as THS had a 12-3 dual record and third-place league finish, along with five top-two tournament finishes.
Miller used the Onaga Classic as an example of DeWitt's contribution to the program. The Chieftains were invited to the tournament because they were beatable, but in recent years, things have changed, Miller said. Tonganoxie has won the tournament the last two years.
"They didn't expect us to win, and we dominated everybody," he said. "We outshined our opponents and it by far was the coaching that did it."
DeWitt said Tonganoxie was special because it was his first stint as a coach. He became a full-time social sciences instructor two years ago.
"That's the other reason it was tough," DeWitt said. "Tonganoxie was my first job. They took a chance on me and allowed me to develop as a coach. I owe them a lot.
"But I can leave with satisfaction that this team is pretty talented. To be quite honest, I'm going to be envious of this team. They'll have some good seniors next year."
Tonganoxie will return six seniors, including James Hartshorn, who went 31-9 with a state appearance, and Miller, who had a 21-15 record. Next year's squad will return with six wrestlers who earned 20 or more wins last winter.
DeWitt's departure signals more work for the school board. The board already hired agriculture instructor Randy Kraft as the girls' basketball coach, replacing Leslie Foster. Athletics director and baseball coach John Lee will leave Tonganoxie for Park Hill High School in Kansas City, Mo. The school must fill three athletic positions, and school Superintendent Richard Erickson would like to have positions filled by the June 11 board meeting.
"I think the sooner the better," he said. "We want that perfect fit. We're interviewing a number of candidates. "Whenever we hire, we hire teachers first and coaches second."
Along with DeWitt's teaching position, an elementary physical education position will be vacant. Luanne Kietzman is retiring after 23 years at the school.
Erickson said DeWitt would be difficult to replace.
"He's done such an outstanding job building the Tonganoxie wrestling program, he and Mr. Moss," Erickson said, referring to assistant coach Dean Moss.
Miller has confidence the school will find a strong replacement.
"It's going be tough replacing him, but I hope it makes him jealous whoever it is," Miller said. "I'm sure the school will find a good coach."