Coaching Days Near An End For Kaczmar


Bruce Hefflinger and Dylan Hefflinger
PBR Ohio Senior Writer and Editor in Chief/NW Scout

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Coaching Days Near An End For Kaczmar

AKRON - With the anticipation of opening day comes an enormous amount of excitement. Players are anxious to show off improvements from all the hard work put in during the offseason while coaches can’t wait to see what this year’s team looks like when real game action finally happens.

When Walsh Jesuit takes the field for game one on Saturday at home against Mentor, there will also be a little different feeling for Chris Kaczmar.

After 28 years in the program, the veteran mentor is entering his 26th and final season as head coach of the Warriors.

“It was an extremely tough decision,” Kaczmar admitted. “I knew the general range of time it would happen and that it would be around this time period, but I wasn’t sure if it would be this year or next. I want to spend time with my girls. I want to learn guitar. I want to get more involved in triathlons. I want to vacation with my wife.”

That will all help take up the time Kaczmar has spent in charge of one of the top baseball programs in not only Ohio, but in the midwest.

“There have been so many highlights,” Kaczmar related. “I don’t like to be results oriented, but getting to state and advancing have been some of the best singular moments. I remember jumping so high in the air when we won some games.”

Among the most memorable years include:

  • Reaching state a year ago as the second-rated Division I team in Ohio.
  • The 2014 season when the Warriors went 26-0 before losing in the district finals.
  • Three players being drafted on the same day after the 2010 season.
  • Being ranked number one in the nation for a month during the 2010 campaign.

There were many finishes at or near the top with seven trips to the state tournament. The 1999, 2004, 2006 and 2008 teams all brought home state titles while the 2009 and 2010 teams finished second.

IN THE BEGINNING

It all began in 1995 when Kaczmar was hired as the freshman coach. A year later he was promoted to junior varsity coach and in 1997, at the age of 25, Kaczmar took over as the varsity head coach for Steve Grescovich, who is now an assistant coach in the program.

“We had a young team that made a deep run,” Kaczmar reflected back to his early days in charge. “Pat O’Brien was my first ace and was drafted right out of high school.”

There is more he remembers about those initial seasons as a head coach.

“I wish I could go back and coach those kids again,” Kaczmar admitted. “I’ve learned a lot since then. As I’ve grown older my relationship with those kids has grown in a positive way. I still stay in touch with them today. I feel like I'd have done a better job if I knew then what I know now.”

TAKEAWAYS FROM THE GAME

One thing stands out about what he has learned in his time as a coach.

“Over all the years I’ve been a coach, while state championships, trips to the Final Four and All-American draft picks have been great, the best part has been my relationships with the kids,” Kaczmar said. “God put me on a path with families facing adversity. We had two players that passed away and players’ parents that passed away. It spawned an idea and we ran a Showcase for the Cure for years.”

It went on for a decade raising money for cancer research and cancer-fighting charities, with the 2014 event raising $40,000.

Along the way Kaczmar has also seen the game change, not just equipment, but players in particular.

“Players are stronger, faster and throw harder,” Kaczmar noted. “It was remarkable in the late-90s when a guy threw 85 he was a standout. Only a couple in Ohio threw 90. Now the training programs that kids go through have evolved and kids’ chance to maximize potential has grown so much.”

DREAM OF A LIFETIME

Two of the kids Kaczmar has mentored are his own sons, Stanley, who graduated from high school in 2020, and Henry, a senior on this year’s Walsh Jesuit team.

“They have been around the game since they were born,” the 52-year-old reflected. “They grew up in the dugout with me. All these years I’ve dreamt about having that opportunity to coach them. It’s been nothing short of a dream of a lifetime to see them flourish and find joy in the game like I have.

“Coaching my sons has been so big in my life,” Kaczmar continued while choking up. “I get emotional thinking about it.”

Henry has the same feeling about the chance to play for his father.

“Honestly, it has meant everything to me,” the Michigan commit said. “I always tell people who ask me, not only is he the best dad in the world but he is the best coach as well. Outside of being my father, he is the best coach I have ever had in my life and I have learned SO many lessons and teachings from him just from being my coach.

“It’s definitely a bittersweet feeling watching it come to an end, but he will do awesome in the next aspect of his life!”

FINAL SEASON

But first there is a matter of one final season as head coach of the Warriors.

“I just try to go day by day and enjoy the process, but I can’t help but get emotional thinking about it,” the Walsh Jesuit mentor related. “Some days I’ll cry and others I’m fine. I’m trying to do my best to not look ahead too much. It’s still got to be about the seniors this year, not about myself. I want to help them seek excellence while at the same time I seek excellence.”

Henry, the 91st-ranked senior shortstop in the country, has not seen a change in his dad. 

“Not at all,” the just-turned 19-year-old said when asked if he sees anything different in the way his father is approaching his final season. “And I believe that says a lot about his character, to show the same true face as every other year. I believe one of the main goals we have for this season outside of winning a state championship is just to soak it all in and have the time of our lives.

“One of the things that he preaches is just to enjoy the time right now because it isn’t going to last forever. We’re definitely looking forward to this season and we hope to make it our best yet!”

The Walsh Jesuit mentor enters this season with an all-time coaching record of 587-117.

“I’m avoiding thinking about this being my last year,” Kaczmar noted. “Whether we win our last game or not, playing in a one-and-done tournament is a challenge, we’re just going to go out and play, not against our opponent but against the game of baseball. Control what we can control. That’s how we’ll find joy in our season.”

A LOOK BACK, AND AHEAD

While the coaching days are nearing an end, the memories are there to last.

“No question about it, I’m going to miss the day-to-day experiences,” Kaczmar said. “Patting a guy on the back. Seeing players exceed their expectations of how good they could become. The most improved award is my favorite. Being part of that process is what I’ll miss the most.”

Fortunately, there will be plenty to do once coaching days have ended, one of which is a bit of a surprise - attending baseball games at Michigan. Both his son Henry and his nephew Mason Eckleman, a junior on this year’s Walsh Jesuit team, have committed to the university in Ann Arbor.

“It has been an evolution of the family being life-long Ohio State fans,” related Kaczmar, whose brother Scott played baseball at Ohio State as did brother-in-law Alex Eckleman. His sister Katie was also a member of the first soccer team for the Buckeyes. “If someone told me Henry and Mason were going to go to Michigan and perform, I’d say they were crazy.”

THE TIME IS RIGHT

Kaczmar, who is president of Kaczmar Architects Incorporated in Cleveland, is happy he will not be leaving the cupboard bare for his successor, whoever that may be, with players back like his Eckleman, the 25th-ranked junior catcher in the nation.

“The 2023 class is one of the most talented and deep Walsh has ever seen,” Kaczmar said. “It will be a great opportunity for the next coach. I was hoping to leave a full cupboard like coach Grescovich did for me.

“It just feels like the time is right. I’m sad about it but at the same time I’m at peace with the decision and excited about the time I will have on my hands. I have goals for the rest of my life, watching my girls (Emma and Lucy, a junior at Walsh) and seeing Henry play in college. This will give me time with my wife to do all the things we want to do.”

A Look Back At The 2021 Season:

To view the 2021 Team Previews, click here.

To view the 2021 Ohio Spring HS Report, click here.

To view the OHSAA Baseball Tournament Roundup, click below.

To View the 2021 PBR All-State Teams click below:

To view the 2021 Preseason All-State Teams, click below:

To view the Weekly Team Rankings, click below:

To view the 2021 Ohio Spring Scout Blog, click below:

A Look Back At What Would've Been The 2020 Season:

To view each of the parts to the No 'Last Dance' Series, click below:

To view the 2020 Team Previews, click here.

To view the 2020 Preseason All-State Teams, click here.

To view the 2020 Virtual Ohio High School State Tournament/Preseason Team Rankings, click here.

A Look Back At The Last Decade:

To view the Ohio High School All-Decade Team 2010-2019, click here.

A Look Back At The 2019 Season:

To view the 2019 Team Previews, click here.

To view the OHSAA Baseball Tournament Roundup, click below.

To view the 2019 All-State Teams, click below.

To view the 2019 Preseason All-State Teams, click below.

A Look Back At The 2018 Season:

To view the 2018 Team Previews, click here.

To view the OHSAA Baseball Tournament Roundup, click below.

To view the 2018 All-State Teams, click below.

To view the 2018 Preseason All-State Teams, click below.

A Look Back At The 2017 Season:

To view the 2017 Team Previews, click here.

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To view the 2017 All-State Teams, click below.

To view the 2017 Preseason All-State Teams, click below.

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