Many teachers and coaches never know what kind of impact they had on the people they taught. They may have made a difference, but they may never hear of it.
Bob Kaple, 81, now knows exactly what the Ottoville community thinks of him.
When he resigned as cross-country coach last month after 53 years at the helm of the team, the school held an impromptu assembly so students could hear about his time. Over 100 cards arrived at his home to show their love, first from former athletes and then from students to show their appreciation. A parade of fire trucks, cars, golf carts, and even joggers passed his house on Easter Sunday.
“I know they love me now,” he said. “I’ve loved them all over the years.”
They want him to know that too, as he fights his final battles with lymphoma. He recently switched to palliative care to make his last stay on the planet as comfortable as possible.
“I don’t know how much time I have left, to be honest,” he said.
Some days are better than others. That day last weekend was one of the bad days. He felt exhausted and headed for his bed. Yet he heard it and felt grateful for their support.
Friday was a better day. He was able to attend the Ottoville junior college invitational track meet that now bears his name, the Bob Kaple Junior High Invitational.
“I want to make the most of it,” he said. “(Friday) I have to go up and see some of my kids.”
“My children.” That’s how Kaple still feels about his students and riders, whether they were part of his first teams or his last.
He actually started out as a freshman basketball coach in Ottoville, coaching behind legendary coach Dick Kortokrax before Kortokrax became a legend in Kalida.
Cross country and track were really more of a tool to build endurance in basketball players.
The Jaycees asked him to help out at an invitational track meet. He measured a course near an old ball diamond. High jumpers jumped into mattresses he had procured. Before long, Ottoville had a track team and a cross country team.
He continued to coach the cross country team throughout last season. It had 31 runners qualifying for the state meet, along with five teams earning state spots. His teams have won four regional championships and six district championships.
“I found out I had lymphoma, and now it’s even worse,” he said. “It was time for me to pass it on to someone else. It’s a shame too, because we have a very good boy who will be in second year and a girl who will be in final year. They are both really good.
Kevin Horstman will take on coaching duties for the Ottoville cross-country team, Kaple said. He tried to reach 54 seasons as a coach, but lymphoma changed his course. Again, he had plenty of plans.
“I was shooting for 90, you know,” he said. “I don’t know right now if I’ll make 82. But it’s been a great life.”
He hopes his messages will stay true to the people he has taught and trained over the years.
“I believe in working hard and having fun when I’m doing it,” he said. “That’s my philosophy.”
It’s a philosophy he heard repeated over and over as they thanked their former coach, bound in gratitude.
“I hear them repeating some things I said,” Kaple said. “It’s good to hear those who say I was a good teacher. It’s good to hear them say that I was a good coach. That’s what I always wanted, to be a good coach and a good teacher.
The Ottoville community continues to rally around Bob Kaple, a former teacher and coach who battles lymphoma.
David Trinko is editor of The Lima News. Reach him at 567-242-0467, by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @Lima_Trinko.