Most success stories are rooted in humble beginnings, and Chuck Koeppen's is no exception.
A legendary running and coaching career dates back to 1960, Koeppen's freshman year at Valparaiso High School, when he took up cross country.
"Looking back, it was a time in my life when I was looking for my niche, where to fit in, what I wanted to do," Koeppen recalled. "(Coach) Ken Pifer was a big influence. He instilled a love, a passion, for the sport of cross country. Once I graduated, I wanted to coach, to be like Ken Pifer. I went to Ball State and figured I'd get in at least one more season of running. It worked out really well."
Nearly 50 years later, the energy hasn't waned. Following an accomplished run as an athlete, Koeppen spent 37 years at Carmel, guiding the Greyhounds to 23 state championships — 11 in boys cross country, 11 in girls cross country and one in boys track — more than any other coach in Indiana high school history. His cross country teams swept the boys and girls titles five times and accounted for 60 sectional, 52 regional and 29 semistate titles, an unprecedented stretch that helped land Koeppen in the National High School Hall of Fame.
"Though we're so far away, everybody hates Carmel. We're like the New York Yankees," said Koeppen, who became the 12th person and fifth coach from Indiana to be inducted into the hall during ceremonies scheduled for Thursday night in Denver. "What it really does is make you look back on your career and all the exciting moments, the big wins, the people who influenced me, my family, the people I worked with, my fellow coaches and mostly the athletes."
A teammate of Chesterton coach Steve Kearney at Ball State, Koeppen first coached at Daleville. Following three years at Wapahani, he took over in 1972 at Carmel, where he developed rivalries with the Porter County cross country powers, locking horns with Bill Wilke (Portage), Larry James (Chesterton) and the coaches at his prep alma mater.
"I remember it like it was yesterday, especially going against Portage and Wilke," Koeppen said. "They brought out the competition in you. They'd come down to our invite, they wanted to kick our butt and we wanted to kick their butt. Stuff that was said back in the woods between the coaches, it wasn't pretty, but it made it a lot more fun. When I first started, they were the enemy. I learned to appreciate my fellow coaches. You realize they're trying to do the same things as you. I have all the respect in the world for those guys. It's not the same any more. I miss those days."
While Koeppen retired as Carmel coach in 2008, he wasn't out of the sport long. He took over as men's cross country and track coach at IUPUI, where he has developed a strong Northwest Indiana pipeline. His roster includes Ryan Cutter (Chesterton) and Mitch Hubner (LaPorte), with Valpo's Peyton and Xavier Reed, and Morgan Township's Alec Kostelnik on their way.
"My fellow coaches from high school years have helped send people our way," Koeppen said. "It's really something that's paid off. We're getting better and better all the time, and we're going to have a great team in the fall."
Already a member of three halls of fame, Koeppen is part of an induction class that includes Joe Theismann and Chauncey Billups.