July 1st, 2011

Hyland's Heroes: Mark Grether

Paul Najjar

CSN Staff Writer


Hyland's Heroes: Mark Grether
photo courtesy of Mark Grether

Grether's fall ritual: three months of youth football.

The following feature is a part of a weekly series, sponsored by Hyland, Block & Hyland, called "Hyland's Heroes" - a set of profiles that will spotlight Louisville area Catholic volunteers, coaches and administrators who assist athletic programs and teams, and help promote excellence in all aspects of sports. Know someone that you think should be featured as the next "Hyland's Hero? Send your recommendation to editor@catholicsportsnet.com.

For 27 fall seasons Mark Grether has draped a whistle around his neck, put on a pair of football coaching shoes and tweeted his way around local Catholic elementary fields. His charge: mold young boys into responsible young men.

And coach some football.

The Ascension-Trinity graduate played football in his youth and has given 27 years of dedicated effort to coach several of Louisville’s Catholic elementary football teams. Starting with his alma mater, Ascension, Grether has also coached at St. Barnabus, Holy Spirit and currently coaches at St. Agnes/St. Francis. He’s coached the 7/8 grades as well as the 5/6 grades.

Grether has coached, by his approximation, 1,400 kids over the years. He considers them all “his kids.”

His service to the local Catholic schools began when he responded to a need for a coach at Ascension.

“I first got involved because they needed a coach at the time and they needed some young coaches to help out,” said Grether. “Next thing I know it’s been 27 years of giving to the young kids.”

That is how it began, but what keeps him coming back year after year? “I think going there (to practice) and looking at the young faces wanting to learn, wanting to absorb anything you tell them,” he said. “They give you some good energy and keep you young. The friendships of the players and families through the years have been great, too.”

Grether’s coaching mantra centers on responsibility. He talks openly and often about a young student-athlete’s responsibility as a player, as a student and as a son and brother at home.

“First, I tell them that you’re responsible for your equipment,” he said. “It’s your responsibility to be at practice on time. It’s your responsibility to be prepared to practice and not make excuses. I think we teach a lot about responsibility and that carries over to the football field when they learn things like blocking assignments and running plays. The leaders then present themselves and we’re just there to guide them along.

“I’ve been blessed with great assistant coaches and staffs over the years. Most of them are not parents of kids playing on the team and they’re guys who know how to coach the game.”

But there are more benefits than just being outside with the young kids. Over time, Grether gets to see these guys develop and mature into men who contribute to their community and often come back and help him with his team.

“There are a few kids over the years who have come onto the field who can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, but by the time they’re a junior or so in high school, they’re actually participating and contributing to their high school team,” he said. “Finding out that guys have become a doctor or a lawyer or a golf professional, or whatever profession they’ve chosen and made it in, that’s more important than winning a Toy Bowl or something like that. To watch them become good people and good contributors to society is a great feeling for me.”

Those relationships that begin on the football field, often end with a return trip to practice from former players. Grether often asks his alumni to return to talk to his current players and that has always been a highlight for him.

“The last couple of years we’ve gone to the Toy Bowl and during the week before the game we have had a dinner to honor the team,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to invite some of my ex-players to that dinner to talk to the team and the parents. One of my ex-players is Trinity grad and Louisville quarterback Will Stein. I’ve called upon kids like Will and several others to do special things or come and talk to the team I’m coaching and the guys never say ‘no’ to that. They’ll ask me, ‘Where and when, coach?’ Only reason I get a ‘no’ response is because Charlie Strong or some other coach may need them at that time.

“Many kids through the years have come back to speak with the team. They know what we do and know that it’s more than just football. We’re growing young men, not just football players. We’re teaching them respect and responsibility and that’s important to so many of the guys I’ve coached.”

After all the years—he’s coached in four different decades—Grether continues to find ways to make an impact on the lives of the young student-athletes he coaches. And his message continues to reach the players far into their futures.

“I’ve coached a few guys who I’ll ask to come back and help. You can see the love and the passion for the game, for the kids from all of those guys who have come back to coach with me,” he said. “They’ve been there before and they know that the groundwork laid for them is something they can pass on to these current kids. Wherever they attended Catholic elementary school, these guys remember those years better than their high school years. And the men that coached them are there for the kids first.

“It’s about giving three months of our fall to these kids to help make them better football players, better classmates and better sons at home to their mothers and fathers. And hopefully, down the road, they’ll be good fathers to their children.”

 

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