What matters most

Messenger photo by Britt Kudla St. Edmond players celebrate head coach Adolph Kochendorfer's 500th career victory in the Gael gym on Saturday.

It took a milestone victory to remind us that, when all is said and done, winning is neither everything nor the only thing in sports.

St. Edmond’s Adolph Kochendorfer secured the 500th triumph of his career on Saturday night, becoming just the 43rd boys basketball coach in state history to do so. Kochendorfer has enjoyed an unprecedented run of success with the Gaels, reaching five state championship games and capturing multiple North Central Conference titles along the way.

Messenger sports writer Dana Becker talked to many former St. Edmond players on the eve of the event, asking for their memories and perspective on what makes our town’s ”Coach K” tick. The Gaels have been a victory factory under Kochendorfer’s tutelage, with a remarkable 10 seasons of 19 or more wins in the last 22 years.

Yet I immediately noticed a pattern in their responses, and it had very little to do with the records or the statistics. Kochendorfer has always been more about the necessary process and development needed to achieve great things; in other words, his teams didn’t become a superior product by accident. It takes preparation, resilience, intensity, energy and concentration: characteristics that ebb and flow only based on the attitude of a given team, not the talent level.

Kochendorfer is a Hall of Fame shoo-in because of his attention to detail, and the consistent ability to pass that focus on to his players. The 500 victories didn’t happen simply because he was in the right place at the right time over and over again. The 500 victories happened because Kochendorfer’s squads worked relentlessly until it became the right place and right time.

Which brings me to my next point: trust. It isn’t easy for a coach to earn unwavering loyalty from his or her players, especially at the high school level. And like all coaches, Kochendorfer isn’t batting a thousand for his career.

By and large, though, he’s been able to get his kids to understand the process — which puts them in an exclusive club of sorts. Everyone wants to succeed, of course, but there’s a big difference between saying so and doing something about it. And that’s what has made building this dynasty special to all of these former Gael players: they know the sacrifices it took behind the scenes to get the program to this point.

We spend quite a bit of time focusing on the 500 victories, which include 396 at St. Edmond and 69 in the postseason alone since 1994-95. With that being said, let’s remember that 21 of his 22 Gael teams have been forced to deal with season-ending defeat, including four — excruciatingly — in the championship round.

Handling adversity isn’t as embraced or celebrated in our sports pages, but maybe it should be. Kochendorfer’s story is as much about moving on from the heartbreak and applying those lessons to the real world, where difficult times can and will strike.

A lot of factors determine the outcome of a given season. Injuries, opponents, matchups — championships aren’t linear, and only one team ultimately stakes their claim. The rest are left to sort through the relationships and the memories, both good and bad.

In other words, a crash course in life preparation. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what matters most? Kochendorfer’s former players certainly think so.

Winning enhances a legacy. It doesn’t define one. St. Edmond will rightly celebrate Kochendorfer’s 500th victory. But for the kids he has called his own over the last three decades of his life, it’s about more than just this number. Much more.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at sports@messengernews.net