During the recent annual Thanksgiving Weekend Pizza Hut Basketball Classic, former Hesston College women’s basketball coach Joel Kauffman was recognized for 21 years of devoted work in Larks athletics.
Following the Hesston College women’s Saturday night (November 29) win over Tabor College’s junior varsity team (Hillsboro, Kan.), Kauffman was introduced to a packed Yost Center by current Larks women’s coach Dan Harrison. Following Harrison was long-time Athletic Director Art Mullet, who presented Kauffman with a plaque commemorating his time at Hesston—the longest continuous tenure by any coach in the history of Hesston athletics. At the time of his last game on the sidelines, Kauffman held the record for most career wins (283) by any coach in any sport in Larks athletics history.
After a standing ovation from the overflow crowd, Kauffman addressed the fans by sharing a few memories and recognizing the people who had made his coaching experience possible, namely his family and his countless former players and assistant coaches over the years.
“The positive impact that my players and assistant coaches have had on my life is just amazing,” Kauffman explained. “I have learned something from each of them, and I wouldn’t trade any one of my former players for all the wins in the world.”
Earlier on Saturday, a private gathering of Kaufman’s former players, assistant coaches, and others connected with Larks basketball was held on campus. Among those in attendance were current Hesston College sophomores, who were part of the 2007-08 team, Kauffman’s last season, and members of his first team from the 1987-88 season. Former players and their family members exchanged memories and shared candidly about the tremendous impact that their time at Hesston had on them.
One memory in particular that was reiterated throughout the private gathering was Kauffman’s tradition of not allowing music to be played on road trips to enable a dialogue among the team. Shanna (Roth) Heinz, class of 1997, commented that she and her teammates would covet a seat near the front of the 15-passenger van in order to be in the middle of what always seemed to be a stimulating conversation.
Those close to the program have noted that much of Kauffman’s success was due to his intentional efforts to find ways to build team chemistry and form important lasting relationships among his players and coaches. Hesston College plans to start the Joel Kauffman Endowed Fund that will be used for all future women’s basketball teams. This endowment will ensure that funds are available for use in team building exercises and experiences. Various activities and experiences could include: Ropes courses, leadership training, outdoor experiences, team outings, and service opportunities.
Aside from what Kauffman meant to the program off the court, his tenure also marked the dramatic improvement in Larks women’s basketball on the court. When he began coaching for Hesston, Kauffman was the Larks fourth coach in as many seasons. His first season, the team was 0-24. The previous three seasons had produced a total of six Hesston wins. In the time since then, Hesston women’s basketball teams have won 283 games, while producing six All-Americans as well as more than a dozen academic All-Americans. The 1996-97 team advanced to the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) National Tournament in Hagerstown, Md. Kauffman leaves on a high note, as his last eight teams all finished with winning records.
Kauffman’s records for 283 career wins, 604 career games coached, All-Americans, and academic All-Americans will stand for a long time in the annals of women’s basketball at Hesston College.
In addition, Kauffman ranks 54th in the nation for career wins among inactive coaches in NJCAA Division II.
Most importantly, Joel Kauffman will be remembered by those who knew him not as just a basketball coach, but as a mentor, a confidant, and a friend.
Kauffman presently serves as vice president of Admissions at Hesston College.