JIM PETERS: End of an era in Valparaiso girls basketball as two of program's fixtures have departed

2012-11-07T18:00:00Z 2012-11-08T05:30:05Z JIM PETERS: End of an era in Valparaiso girls basketball as two of program's fixtures have departedJim Peters Times Columnist nwitimes.com
November 07, 2012 6:00 pm  • 

For the most part, it was a typical day of teaching and athletic training for Kathy Levandoski, right down to the on-the-go bagel and yogurt for dinner.

With one exception.

For the first time since she came to Valparaiso High School in 1990, Levandoski wasn't on the bench when the Vikings girls basketball team opened the season.

It was the same for Mark Knauff, plus four years.

The fixtures of the program resigned as assistant coaches after last season. The fact that the two stepped down at the same time was a coincidence, though it seemed fitting, an end of an era at Valpo, which is also their alma mater.

Knauff retired after 35 years as a teacher, the last 29 at Valpo. Levandoski left coaching to spend more time with her family.

"I thought about it a couple years ago," Knauff said. "I was going to go till I was 62, but I looked it over, talked it over at home and decided to do it."

The Vikings opened the season Tuesday at Kankakee Valley. Levandoski was back at the school, on duty as the trainer for a freshman game.

"It's absolutely been a blast," she said. "It's been a blessing, coaching at Valparaiso. It's such a neat place to coach and teach. I've loved it. Having coached (current coach) Jeanette (Gray), it was so neat to coach with her. It's like my husband (Tom) says, I probably bleed green. It's been a true labor of love, important and fun."

The two were key cogs in the glory days of Valpo girls hoops, when the program's success was on par with any of its kind in the state.

"That had a lot to do with Greg Kirby," Knauff said. "There wasn't a bad year with him. We had a phenomenal run of players. I'm not sure we always had great players, but he had a way of making a team good. We all got along so well. I learned so much. Being around guys like (Bob) Punter, Skip (Collins), Dale (Ciciora) and Greg (Kirby), I ate it up."

Knauff moved up with Dave Kenning in 1986 when Ciciora resigned as coach. Kirby took over in 1990 when Levandoski joined the staff after four years at Kankakee Valley.

"You put your blood, sweat and tears into it, as they say," Knauff said. "I enjoyed seeing the kids get better every year, going from point A to point B, especially at the JV level, where they have such a long way to go. Being from here, it's not just about a school and coaching. There's a lot of town pride."

Kirby resigned in 2006, and the program has had its share of struggles since. Neither Knauff or Levandoski wanted to get into that end of it, other than to say, 'Times change.'

"Kids have a different mindset now," Knauff said.

"There's so many other things to do," Levandoski said.

Levandoski's training responsibilities will keep her at home games, and she enjoys continuing to interact with the players during the school day. Knauff plans to attend games in his new capacity as a spectator.

"Being a coach gives you a better perspective on how to be a fan," Knauff said. "My dad likes to go, so we may drive to some close away games. I definitely miss it, but once you're retired, you forget about school things. You've got other obligations."

The best part about it?

"Supper's hot on the stove," Knauff said.


This column represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at jim.peters@nwi.com.

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