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Sports

Walsh soccer field honors legacy of longtime coach

8/21/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Sean Patrick

The soccer field at Walsh Jesuit High School was named in honor of John Kissner, who started the boys program there in 1978 and was head coach for 35 years.
Photo courtesy of Angela Kissner
CUYAHOGA FALLS — The Walsh Jesuit High School boys soccer program has existed for 36 years. For the first 35 of those years, John Kissner roamed the sidelines, leading the team to an incredible level of success, and to honor his achievements, the school has officially named its soccer field The John Kissner Soccer Field.

“I think it’s a tremendous honor, obviously,” Kissner said. “I’m very humbled, because I didn’t expect anything like this to happen. It was a great 35-year experience — a tremendous journey for myself and my family.”

The official dedication took place Aug. 2 in front of a crowd that included many of his friends, family and former players. Kissner said it was only appropriate they were on hand to share the honor with him.

“All of the success and the achievements are wonderful, but the bottom line is that I’ve gotten the opportunity to meet so many great people,” he said. “A lot of people were involved in the success that we’ve had with the Walsh Jesuit soccer program. It took a lot of people to accomplish what we did. I was a small piece of the accomplishment, and for me to have this soccer field named after me is a blessing.”

Kissner was hired in 1978 by Grant Conzaman, who had just become the school’s new athletic director that same summer.

“I was his first hire,” the long-time coach said.

However, Kissner noted, the program would not have been created that year if not for the efforts of Dave Towell.

“I call him, ‘The Father of Walsh Jesuit Soccer.’ He is the one who got the ball rolling,” Kissner said. “He had sons who went to Walsh and they wanted to play soccer, and he’s really the one who started the program. He pushed some buttons or whatever, and he donated so much time and work and money into the program.”

When Kissner was offered the head coaching job at Walsh, the hope was that he would be able to stick around for a few years.

“I graduated from The University of Akron. I played there for four years,” he said. “Then I had a full-time job where I was working with Stu Parry, my former coach at The University of Akron. Stu Parry and Dave Towell were very good friends — and still are — and Dave went to Stu and said, ‘We need a coach here at Walsh Jesuit.’ I was recommended, but I didn’t know if I would be able to do it because of my full-time job. They interviewed me in July, and Grant Conzaman asked if I could give it at least three years. He said he didn’t want to hire me and then have to hire a new coach the next year and so on and so on. He wanted some stability. I told him I could stay for at least three years. Well, I fell in love with the program, the administration, the families — it became a beautiful marriage and I stayed on for 35 years.”

During Kissner’s career at Walsh, his teams won three state championships and finished second in the state five other times. He was named Coach of the Year by the National High School Coaches Association in 2008.

“The highlight was winning the first state championship in any sport at Walsh [in 1982],” he said. “It took us about four and a half seasons to do that, but we were the first, and that’s something I’m very proud of.”

Kissner, 66, retired as Walsh’s head coach following the 2012 season, but he hasn’t actually left the game that has been such a large part of his life.

“I’m an assistant coach for my daughter [Carmen Ptacek] up at Hathaway Brown, so I’m coaching girls now, which is a little bit different,” he said. “This wasn’t planned; it just kind of happened. My daughter got a job as a teacher and an assistant coach at Hathaway Brown [in 2003], and then she became the head coach a few years ago. She needed an assistant coach last August, and she had someone in mind, but somehow it didn’t work out. So, of course, she came to her favorite person and said she needed some help. It’s been a good experience.”

Meanwhile, Kissner said he believes he left the Walsh soccer program “in good hands.”

“Scotty Zackaroff is one of my former players, and he was my assistant coach for my last two years,” he said. “I felt confident that he would continue the success that we’ve had. As the team’s head coach, I think he will continue to run the program the way that we have always hoped.”

As for The John Kissner Soccer Field, the coach said he “couldn’t be prouder” of his namesake.

“It was built in 1997 through donations, and a lot of parents put a lot of work into it,” he said. “It’s one of the top quality fields in the state, if not the entire nation. It’s a beautiful facility in a beautiful setting. The quality of the field is top-notch and it’s wonderfully manicured. It’s an incredible place to play this beautiful game.”

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