Gehrer, Schartz back where they’re comfortable coaching
Weston Schartz and Mike Gehrer are two of the Wichita area’s most successful football coaches, but the first time they met was on the baseball field. Schartz was coaching West, Gehrer was at Bishop Carroll.
“One of the first things I noticed was he had the right attitude,” Gehrer said. “He was real positive with the kids…. I could tell he was one of those guys who just was trying to win. It wasn’t that he had to win, he was trying to win, he was getting his players to play hard. I liked that about him, and his charisma and interaction with his kids.”
Schartz’s first impression of Gehrer wasn’t too different.
“He was a very competitive guy, but yet he was very personable. I was a young guy, too, and I could see the fire in his eyes,” Schartz said.”
It’s been more than two decades since they coached high school baseball against each other’s teams, but both have made a return to their original schools.
Gehrer, 57, returns as Collegiate’s football coach after a seven-year absence. He coached Collegiate from 1990-2004, winning Class 3A titles in 1994 and 2000.
Schartz, 51, is back at West after 10 years at Northwest, where he won 71 games and went to the playoffs each season. During a 15-year stint at West, he led the Pioneers to 10 straight winning seasons and a second-place finish in Class 6A in 1997.
They haven’t crossed each other’s paths much. Their teams are in different leagues and classifications.
But there was a time in 1990 when Schartz made a decision that affected both their futures.
Schartz had been at West for three seasons, leading the Pioneers to their second winning record in 13 years, when the Collegiate job opened. He applied and was poised to sign the contract that would have given him a hefty raise.
Before he signed, though, he decided to tell then-West principal J.R. Muci that he was leaving the Pioneers.
“He called me into the office, and he had me in tears,” Schartz said. “… He told me that ‘the kids at Collegiate are great kids, but they don’t need the extra you can give the kids at West.’ He told me he went into education to make a difference with kids in lower income (brackets) and he thought I could do a good job helping the kids at West, and we talked about what we’re really in this for.”
Schartz told Collegiate of his desire to stay, and that’s when Gehrer was offered the job.
For Gehrer, he wasn’t even sure if he wanted to coach football. He was working for Godfather’s Pizza and baseball was his sport, even though he’d played football at Kapaun under Ed Kriwiel.
Gehrer hadn’t considered applying until several Collegiate parents, whose sons he’d coached in summer baseball, urged him to do so.
“It was crazy,” Gehrer said of being hired. “My wife still thinks I was nuts for doing it. Here I was … teaching, the athletic director, coaching football and baseball. I had no idea on how to be an athletic director. I’d been out in the business world.”
Schartz’s decision to stay at West in 1990 affected both, but neither one regrets the turn of events. They thrived and, best of all, they say, they created long-lasting relationships with players who still remain in contact.
On Father’s Day, Schartz gets around 100 text messages, mostly from the players he coached at West.
“There’s not a whole lot you can’t like (about Schartz),” West senior Blake Legleiter said. “Since Day 1 that I shook that man’s hand, I knew…. he’s got that fire, that Pioneer pride. He’s a great man.… He was at a winning program, and he didn’t have to come back here. That just shows that he’s somebody who cares. That’s all that matters. So we can’t let him go out there and go to war by himself.”
Collegiate is expected to have another strong season. The Spartans, who won 3A in 2009, advanced to the second round of the 3A playoffs last season and returns some of its top talent, including Markus Phox and Isiah Franklin.
West isn’t in the same situation. The Pioneers had a seven-season streak of playoff berths end in 2003 and has won 14 games in nine seasons.
But what both schools can count on is a coach whose strength is motivation. Schartz and Gehrer freely admit to hiring assistants who complement them, especially on the organizational side.
As for their pregame speeches, well, they’re usually goosebump-inducing and heartfelt. Gehrer thinks about his all through the week, and he loves the time he can spend hyping them up before a game.
Schartz is no different.
“We build them up in the locker room before the game,” he said. “Get them riled up.”
That positivity is one reason senior Spenser Schooler is glad he’s finally getting to play for Gehrer.
“I love his energy and he’s always positive, that’s the biggest thing,” said Schooler, whose father, Brian, is a longtime Collegiate assistant.
Fans can hear Gehrer during games, but what they hear is rarely negative.
“I’m a loud guy,” said Gehrer, who calls himself an idea guy. “I’m loud during games. I’m trying to be the positive, motivating guy – ‘Hey, you can get this done, you can do this.’
“There’s so much crap going on in the world. We’ve got to practice being positive, have to practice being good teammates. Everybody is self-motivated. This is a team game.”
Schartz considers himself a blue collar-type person, which is why he believes he fits in so well at West.
“I’m the type of guy the kids, I believe, can depend on, that will give everything he’s got,” he said. “We’ll bring our lunch pail to practice and work them hard. I’ll give them everything they’ve got, nothing fancy, but let’s get to work.”
For Gehrer and Schartz, it’s good to be back. They’re right where they want to be.