The ABCA Ethics in Coaching Award is awarded annually to a person who has answered coaching's highest calling – to teach life's lessons and model the character traits of honesty, integrity, respect and personal responsibility. For a half-century, Dave Klontz has done exactly that.
The longtime head coach of Heath (Ohio) High School has led the Bulldogs to a pair of state championships (2002, 2007) to go with three regional, seven district and 17 sectional titles. Having been involved with the Bulldog program for 50 years, Klontz has been named Coach of the Year at various levels a staggering 26 times and has been named a Hall of Famer four times (Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association, Heath High School Athletics; Mid-State (Ohio) League; Central District (Ohio) Baseball Coaches).
As decorated as he is in terms of on-field accolades, Klontz is quick tell you his work off the field is much more instrumental. He was a Physical Education and Heath teacher at Heath for 39 years and has served 36 years as the school's Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) advisor. He also coached football for 36 years and has served as a city councilman and Parks and Charter board member.
Inside Pitch sat down with Klontz to talk about his latest achievement and just what has made his experience as a baseball coach so special.
Inside Pitch: What was your experience like as a player at Heath High School and how did you first get involved with coaching?
: I was actually the very first student to be enrolled at Heath High School when it opened in 1962. Our superintendent told me then that ‘one of these days, you’re going to get to tell you grandkids that you were the first student here.’ I didn’t get to play organized baseball until I was about 14, but every coach I had seemed to love what they were doing. I don’t think I ever had a coach that acted like it was a chore to do what they were doing.
During my senior year of college I had a job lined up in South Bend with the city schools, and I came home for a [Heath High School] basketball game. That same superintendent grabbed me and asked me what I was going to do when I got out of college. I told him I had a job lined up and he said ‘no you don’t, I have a job for you right here. We need you right here.’ I told the guy in South Bend that I had a chance to go home and he asked me, ‘do you want to go home?’ I replied ‘yeah, I think I do.’ ‘Never miss a chance to go home,’ he told me. That really stuck with me.
I know it sounds corny but the community has really embraced me. The best day in my life is when I moved back to Heath. I’ve never wanted to leave, even though I’ve had a few opportunities to. I’m sure some of the people around here wanted me to leave, but I didn’t want to!
IP: Describe your commitment level when it comes to being involved with the Heath community.
When I came here, this community really embraced me as a high school student. People have always been nice to me. When I came back as a coach, I can’t tell you how patient the community was with me. I hear horror stories about young coaches getting into the wrong situation because people just aren’t patient. The people stuck with me.
I taught with some people who taught me in high school, and they were always so gracious to me. I just try to do as much for this community as I possibly can. When we won our first state championship, I was so thrilled. I told our players to look up into the stands, look what you’ve done for your community. It’s a beautiful thing and I’m blessed to be a part of it.
IP: How did you take what you learned as a football coach and apply it to coaching baseball?
You learn something from everybody. I learned a lot with football because I got to find out about my [baseball] kids in the fall [playing football]. I used to work football camps at Michigan and Coach Schembechler always talked about how much he liked watching guys play other sports, because he got to see how they competed. The guys you can count on when it’s third down are the same guys you can count on when it’s two strikes, two outs. From organization to dealing with injuries, I learned a lot coaching football. I still miss ‘the hunt’ on Friday night at seven o’clock, I just don’t miss the film on Saturday mornings!
IP: What’s your advice to young high school coaches when it comes to dealing with parents?
This may not sound very gracious, but I always tell young coaches to meet as many parents as you can, because it’ll help you forgive their kids! I assure our parents every year that I will never say or do anything to their kids that I wouldn’t say or do if the parents were standing right next to me.
You live life forward and you understand it backwards. When I look back, I understood what people tried to do for me. You have to trust the process, do what you think is right and if you get run out of a job, God has bigger plans than you do, you’ve got to roll with the punches. If you get run out because you didn’t please the right people, why would you want to be there anyway?
Parents think with their hearts, not their heads. You just have to take it with a grain of salt and don’t take it personally. I tell our guys, your mother loves you, your father loves you, your grandparents love you, but they’re not at practice every day. They don’t see what you see, they don’t know what you know.
IP: What’s it like to be the recipient of this year’s ABCA Ethics in Coaching award?
There’s going to be 500 guys in that audience that could also be receiving that [award]. I’ve been blessed; every day in my life I’ve been able to do what I love to do. When I was growing up I wanted to be a professional baseball player, but I got to do the next best thing. I tell the young teachers that ‘it’s only work if you’d rather be doing something else.’ I’m just getting older and they thought up an award to give me.
IP: What does the word ‘ethics’ mean to you?
There’s a lot of really, really good coaches that I’ve competed against that have never been to a state tournament. Why do they keep coaching? Because they’re ethical, because that’s what they do. My coaching philosophy is every time I walk through that front gate, I see me fifty years ago. I remember what people did for me and I just try to do that for others now. I think that’s ethics.
What I want to be able to do forty years from now is look our kids in the eye and know we did it right. The biggest reward in coaching is our guys that come to alumni day, who want their kids to take pictures with me. That means more to me than any award.
Success isn’t always about being better than everyone else. It’s about being better than you’ve ever been before, and it’s being respected by the people who know you the best.
IP: How do you balance your life as a coach with your family life?
When I go home, nobody there knows whether we won or lost. All you can do is all you can do you, and you go out and try it again tomorrow. That’s the beautiful thing about baseball. When you go home, forget about it. Coaching isn’t what you are, it’s just what you do. Your kids, your wife, they don’t care if you coach or not.
It’s who you are. I’m not one thing at the field and another at home. To whom much is given, much is required. There are three things that all great leaders possess- they know what they have, they know how they got it, and they know how to give it away.