THS baseball: New coach calls job ‘a perfect fit’
A longtime baseball coach from Topeka will replace a longtime coach at Tonganoxie.
Phil Loomis, who coached at Seaman High from 1986 to 1998, was hired Thursday during a special school board meeting. In other hires at the meeting, Kenneth Lott, an assistant coach at Leavenworth High, was named head soccer coach, while current softball coaches Craig Lohman and Debbie Himpel have new titles -- co-head softball coaches.
Loomis, who guided Seaman to second- and third-place finishes in Class 6A, took the Vikings to six state tournaments and has a 185-59 career record.
Loomis replaces Andy Gilner, who coached at Tonganoxie since the program was established in the early 1990s. Gilner was an assistant coach for several years before being named head coach in September 2003. Before Gilner became head coach, the Chieftains had won three games during the previous two seasons combined.
In 2004, Gilner's first season as head coach, THS went 2-19 but barely lost to top-seeded Eudora in regional play. Last spring, Tonganoxie posted a 4-17 record and again just missed knocking off No. 1 Eudora at regionals. Tonganoxie swept Jeff West early in the season for the program's first doubleheader sweep in the last few years. Gilner still coaches American Legion baseball in Tonganoxie.
When asked to resign, Gilner refused, according to THS athletics director Brandon Parker. But Parker didn't want to characterize the situation as a firing.
"We just thought it best that we go in a different direction," Parker said. "We appreciate all Coach Gilner has done through the years with the program."
While Gilner was part of establishing a baseball program in Tonganoxie, Loomis did the same at Seaman in 1986. Seaman was the first school in Topeka to field a baseball team.
Loomis, the 1996 Kansas Coaches Association baseball coach of the year, left coaching in 1998 to have time to watch his daughter and son play high school softball and baseball.
His wife, who was employed in Topeka, recently found a position in Lawrence. With that career move, Loomis began searching for openings in the Lawrence area.
"I looked for a lot of things around Lawrence, and Tonganoxie seemed like a perfect fit," Loomis said.
Parker said many of Loomis' players have gone on to play collegiate ball.
"He comes highly recommended from people he's been associated with," Parker said. "He's known to run a very structured program and obviously his credentials speak for themselves."
Loomis is a 1973 graduate of Larned High School. He then played basketball and baseball at Hutchinson Community College before playing in those sports at Emporia State. He graduated from HCC in 1975 and ESU in 1979.
Loomis had an opportunity to watch Tonganoxie play late last season. He caught a glimpse of who will be returning -- and seniors he'll have to replace.
"I'm going to miss that left-handed pitcher," Loomis said, referring to outgoing senior John Volk.
Batting will be a concern for Loomis, but he's more concerned with defense.
"I've always believed in pitching and defense is where it starts," Loomis said. "Anyone can learn to hit the ball, but learning not to give up runs, that's the key."
Loomis will take over a program that, like him, has some state appearances to its credit. But the program has endured its share of struggles in recent years, posting only nine wins during the last four years.
Loomis also will be the program's fourth coach in five years since John Lee replaced Chris Herron in 2000. In 1992, Herron and then-assistant coach Andy Gilner guided THS to its highest finish at state -- third place.
The current baseball staff isn't complete. Although Jeremy Goebel has been hired to coach again next season as an assistant, assistant coaching positions held previously by Michael Gilner and Brad Shelton still haven't been filled.
Loomis, who taught science at Logan Junior High in Topeka for 25 years, will be a biology teacher at THS this fall. He also will be an assistant boys basketball coach at THS.
Kenneth Lott has played soccer since he was a youth in Texas.
Now he'll get a shot at his first head-coaching job. Lott was named Tonganoxie's new soccer coach Thursday, replacing Luke Denney who resigned to take a teaching position in Kansas City, Mo.
Lott, who graduated in 1984 from Midway High School in Waco, Texas, in 1984, played collegiately at Barton Community College in Great Bend and St. John's in Winfield. Lott played at St. Johns until 1986 -- the same year the college closed its doors.
Since then, Lott has worked as an automotive technician for eight years and worked for PackerWare Plastics in Lawrence.
Since then, Lott, who has lived in Leavenworth the last 18 years, earned a degree from Park College in Parkville, Mo., in 1997. He then was a teacher's aide in Texas before teaching computer classes at Basehor-Linwood. He also was a building technician at Linwood Elementary. At Tonganoxie, he'll teach automotives.
As for soccer, Lott most recently coached at Leavenworth High as an assistant, but has coached various youth teams since college. Since college, he's continued to play soccer, both indoor and outdoor, in the Kansas City and Lawrence areas. And, he plans to compete in the Sunflower State Games next month in Topeka.
He also helped organize the Leavenworth Adult League five years ago and has been a certified referee the last five years.
In addition, Lott has earned certificates through the National Soccer Coaches Association and is registered as a Kansas State Youth coach. He also has been on the Leavenworth Soccer Association board the past five years.
In short, Lott loves soccer. And he's ecstatic to have his first head-coaching job.
"It's what I've been waiting for for a long time," Lott said. "It's my life dream basically coming true."
Parker recognized Lott's enthusiasm.
"I think he was willing to really kind of build a program and have stability in a program, one he could call his own," Parker said. "I feel like he's got a real passion to run a program the way he feels fit.
"This is an opportunity that's come up and now he has his chance."
Interestingly enough, Parker and Lott came up through the same school district in Waco. Although Parker left Waco in junior high with his parents for McPherson, Lott's two resume references were a former teacher of Parker's and a classmate. Parker and Lott, however, hadn't met before Lott applied for the soccer position.
Now that Lott has the job, he plans to meet with his players. He also hopes to start having annual summer clinics for local youths.
More importantly, he's eager to focus on soccer.
"I'm anticipating getting started quickly," Lott said. "The first week of July if possible.
Debbie Himpel and Craig Lohman will be back in the softball dugout next year.
The two were hired as co-head coaches Thursday. Himpel and Lohman were assistant coaches last year for coach Merri Samuels, but Samuels opted to coach junior varsity games midway through the season because of health problems. Himpel and Lohman finished the season coaching varsity games, helping the team to a long winning streak after the squad started the season 3-8. The Chieftains finished last season at 10-11. Samuels and Diane Titterington will return next spring as junior varsity coaches.
"They did a nice job at the end of the season," Parker said. "The team really improved."
Parker also stressed that the returning coaches were the top choices.
"We weren't just going to make a move just to make it," Parker said. "It had more to do with Debbie and Craig doing a good job as opposed to just not finding anybody else."
Himpel has helped coach recreation league softball in Tonganoxie and in the last few years has helped coach competitive teams with her husband, Mark, in the Kansas City area.
Lohman, meanwhile, has coached the Tonganoxie Braves, another competitive team, with Pat Albert. The Braves won a national tournament last summer in Lawrence and qualified for another national tournament in Orlando, Fla., in August.
Lohman is eager to start his second year as a high school coach.
"The future looks good," Lohman said. "We have a couple more players that's transferred in that's going to go to school here.
"We're going to be competitive in about every game and I'm sure Debbie feels the same way."
And Lohman noted that the team should build on last year's late-season momentum.
"We didn't have a bit of problems last year," Lohman said. "The chemistry was fine."
Himpel is ready to coach again, but had some reservations.
"I have mixed feelings only because I have two girls on that team now," she said. "I don't know if they're excited about having mom as a coach."