After 40 years of coaching, Rolla head track and cross country Don Knapp had a surprise assembly on Thursday, May 17 to announce to his team that he would be stepping down as head coach.
Knapp has been coaching at Rolla for 37 years and still has a love for track and cross country, but he's decided he's already missed out on spending some much needed time with his family.
"Basically, it feels right. I'm satisfied with my time and my career. I just need to spend more time with family and will our grandkids," said coach Knapp. "I need to spend time doing some things that I have put off through the years because the sports have been important to me and there's not really much of an offseason. When one season ends, you're preparing for the next one and so on. I need to spend time with my grandkids, who are growing up, and I see them occasionally, but I want to see them more. Joyce and I want to do a lot of things where if I'm locked into another year or six to eight months of doing this then it limits out time of going and doing it. It's just time to do it."
Coach Knapp's list of accomplishments is longer than a cross country race. He's won awards like the SWCCCA Coach of the Year, has served as the President, VP and an executive officer for the Missouri Track and Cross Country Coaches Association and most recently was named to the Missouri Track and Field Hall of Fame in 2007. Knapp has led Rolla to a total of 40 conference championships between cross country and track, 10 District titles and 21 Districts plaques. In 2016 he led Rolla to a Sectional Championship as well. During his tenure at Rolla, all but three of the school records have fallen.
Coach Knapp has coached some of the most incredible athletes Rolla has seen. From Olympic athlete Chantae McMillan to Missouri Gatorade Athlete of the Year Val Sauer. Knapp has coached 180 All-State Athletes and 12 State Champions. In his specialty event, the pole vault, Knapp has sent 30 to the State meet and 21 have earned All-State honors. He's helped college athletes across the country, including Missouri S&T and Mizzou. His list of accomplishments as a coach is long, but his biggest take away is his love for the students that he's had the pleasure of coaching.
"The enjoyment of the time with the kids. They're all important. We've had some really good athletes, phenomenal, nationally ranked athletes, but the other kids are important too, they're all important," said coach Knapp. "I'm just as happy for those kids as I am for the star athlete. Of course you want all the best athletes you can, any competitive coach would, I'm no different. But the memories I will take away are the teams, the success of the group. The highlights, of course, if someone really did well, but all of it's been important. All the years, all the teams, all the great kids and all the good people I've gotten to work with."
The announcement was a very emotional one. There wasn't a dry eye in the room as coach Knapp said the words, "Seniors, you won't be back next year. Neither will I." The whole group was a little shocked to see the only coach they've ever known in the sport to step down. It was a tough announcement to make before the season came to a close, but he wanted to make sure that all of his athletes heard this announcement from him first."
"It was the best time to get the whole team together, because the kids are still in school. Next week, school will be out and they'll be gone, a lot of them," said the Rolla head coach. "Most of the team went to conference and a lot of them went to Districts, but every week from here on less and less qualify because the competition gets tough, so a lot of them will be gone. This was my best time to tell the group how much they meant to me, what a good year it's been with them and to let them all know so that they weren't surprised hearing it through the grape vine."
Coach Knapp will continue coaching the team through Sectionals this weekend and after that he'll make his final coaching appearance at the State Meet next weekend. Knapp has said good-bye to a lot of senior classes, but this year he get's to graduate with them.