August 5th, 2011

Hyland's Heroes: Thom Wachtel

Paul Najjar

CSN Staff Writer


Hyland's Heroes: Thom Wachtel
photo courtesy Thom Wachtel

Wachtel paving the path for local Catholic football league.

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.

The Louisville Catholic Sports Athletic Association (CSAA) oversees programs that serve thousands of grade school student athletes in a dozen sports.

In football, 79 teams participate at the 3rd/4th grade, 5th/6th grade and 7th/8th grade levels. Thom Wachtel has been the CSAA Football Director since 1998 and has guided the league through a period of great growth and development.

As football director, Wachtel runs an organization that includes nearly 500 volunteer coaches, “team moms”, maintenance staffs and others. More than 1,200 boys playing the game served by all of those parent volunteers is what makes the CSAA a special and highly successful league.

Wachtel was a product of the CSAA, playing some football and basketball at St. Lawrence grade school as well as at Bishop David high school. He started his coaching career while still in high school, but his biggest influence to coach and serve the parish school came from his father, Rich. His parents were founding members at St. Lawrence parish and it was his father who actually got him started in coaching.

“The person who inspired me to coach was my father, Rich,” said Thom. “He was a coach and ran the athletics program at St. Lawrence. We ran a huge intramural softball program there and that’s where I started coaching--in the girls’ softball intramural league. I was the only male coach in the league and he put my name down as Thometta Wachtel.”

As Wachtel laughed at the Thometta memory, he reflected on a journey that may have started in an odd way as an intramural softball coach, but it has been one that has enriched his life beyond measure. He credits mentors Keith Wolfe and Larry Hanke as being instrumental in his development as a coach; the gentlemen outside of his father who set a tone and a style for his work with kids.

“Keith Wolfe is the guy I first started coaching basketball with and he was a great role model for our kids,” Wachtel fondly recalled. “He was a lector at church, but also the basketball coach. So you saw him on the court as a coach and as a lector in the church. He passed away unexpectedly and they gave me the coaching job. But I wasn’t old enough or experienced enough to be the head coach so I hired Larry Hanke to be the head coach and I was his assistant.”

He learned much from his elders and kept giving back to the St. Lawrence community. And his passion for teaching young kids burns through his position. He reminds coaches all the time that you’re coaching kids who may never put on football equipment after this season. He encourages them to have as much fun as they can with the kids.

“I tell these coaches every year, ‘you’re working with 6th grade kids and this may be their last year of playing football, so make it enjoyable.’ With 7/8th graders, we send a lot of kids on to play in high school, but still, there are a number of those guys who won’t ever play again. This is the only time they ever put on equipment. So we tell our coaches to be mindful of that.”

He and his wife Renee are the proud parents of two daughters, Lene and Maci. Both were volleyball players at St. Lawrence. Lene attended Holy Cross high school and then played at Brescia University. Maci was a standout at Assumption high school and is a member of the University of Louisville volleyball team. He’s proud of their achievements and recalled a time when he coached their teams in grade school. Until his wife told him he couldn’t.

His fondest memory as a coach was fairly typical. It wasn’t about the best team he coached, but about a team of hard working overachievers. “I had a great basketball team at St. Lawrence that won a city championship,” he said. “And people ask me if that was my most memorable or favorite team, but I tell them that that team was really good and very talented. About three years prior to that championship, we had a group of kids that played .500 ball, but they were easily the most fun team I’d ever coached. They worked hard, very hard and they were a joy to teach, coach and work with.”

It is pretty clear that Wachtel enjoys the teaching aspect of coaching more than any other part. That’s one of the reasons he’s effective as an administrator: he knows exactly what he wants for the kids.

“I love to teach and love the kids,” he said. “I coached football at Holy Cross high school for six years in the last decade, but I was still with the CSAA. The CSAA drew me back. If I get back to coaching, I’ll coach at the 6th grade level where I can teach more than I coach. The only time I miss the high school coaching was the practices. I don’t miss the games at all. I just enjoy working with kids.”

You couldn’t ask for a better combination of passion for the game and passion for teaching kids than what Thom Wachtel brings to the Louisville Catholic schools. A passion that filters through every school and every team as they prepare these young football players for their futures. 

 

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