By Mike Phillips
“Looking back on everything that has happened to me, I feel like God has blessed me,” said former Sacred Heart High School Soccer Coach Rich Bahner, who recently was one of 11 former Missouri high school soccer coaches inducted into the inaugural class to the Missouri High School Soccer Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
“I was shocked,” said Bahner of his initial reaction to being inducted into the Hall. “Chris Lawson (1985 Sacred Heart grad and now the head soccer coach at Rockhurst for right at 20 years) called Mark (S-H Principal Dr. Mark Register) and told him, and then Mark called me in and told me. I was just shocked. To be one of 11 inducted in the first class is almost unimaginable.”
Bahner coached the Gremlin boys varsity team at Sacred Heart for 26 years (1980-2005) and the Lady Gremlin varsity for the last five years of his coaching career at Sacred Heart, which ended in 2005.
According to the the MSHSSCA Hall of Fame Committee, Bahner scored 359 boys wins in 26 seasons; and 36 girls wins in six seasons.
The gentlemanly Bahner, always known for the gray derby hat he fashioned on the sidelines. accumulated approximately 330 wins, numerous district titles and his teams advanced to the Class 1 state quarterfinals in 1989, 1991 and in his final two seasons with the Gremlin boys in memorable matches against College Heights Academy of Joplin.
“It’s quite a story,” said Bahner, who is closing in on 40 years as a math teacher at Sacred Heart. “I didn’t even want to play soccer. I played baseball for
Bill Wilson. He asked me one day to come out and try soccer. I would have done anything for Bill Wilson. I came out for his soccer team and I fell in love with the game.”
Bahner played soccer his junior year (1968-69), the only year Sacred Heart had soccer during his high school years. He attended college at what is now Rockhurst University in Kansas City.
“I came back here to Sacred Heart and I had no intention of doing anything but teaching math,” he said. “I had no thoughts of coaching soccer. But again, I felt like God was sitting on my shoulder guiding me.”
When the school re-adopted soccer in 1980, Bahner was approached about takng over the Gremlin program. And as they say, the rest is history.
Bahner said he could not pick out a highlight of his coaching career.
“I think it was just the whole experience, the guys and the girls, the wins and losses,” Bahner said. “I loved watching the kids growing up and making decisions that guided them through their lives.”
Nor would Bahner select a top player from his years at Sacred Heart.
“There are just so many,” he said. “But I will say this. There is one player I had who has not forgotten where he came from. His motto is never to forget where you came from and always be willing to give back. That would be Chris Lawson. He’s always back here involved n soccer as his way of giving back for what he got here. He will be the National Coach of the Year. He hasn’t yet but it will happen.”
Besides thanking his many players and teams as well as his bosses at the school, Bahner took time to thank the media.
“I appreciate the relationship we had with the sportswriters who really cared about the kids,” said Bahner. “I would put you right at the top of that list and please quote me on that.”
Bahner stepped away from the sidelines after the girls spring season in 2005.
“I was tired,” said Bahner. “I told both the boys and girls team that I was just too tired to give it m full effort. It wasn’t fair to them if I couldn’t put my heart in it.”
Now seven years later, Bahner is getting his rightful day in the sun as a member of the Missouri High School Soccer Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
It’s a well-deserved and long-overdue honor for the gentleman coach.
–Editor’s note: Coach Bahner was also named Sacred Heart School’s Educator of the Year in February during Catholic Schools Week.