By Sue Moore
Ed Knapp’s fifty years of coaching sports in Vicksburg High School is a milestone that needs recognition, according to Mike Roy, Vicksburg’s athletic director. Knapp might disagree: He figures he’s had all the accolades anyone could ask for when his former athletes call him, text him and seek him out whenever they need his words of wisdom.
“That’s what makes it all worthwhile,” says Coach Knapp. “I learned that high school kids participate in sports because they want to have fun. I learned that early. If you have a positive way of talking with kids, it works. To see them develop socially, mentally, and physically is a real joy.”
The joy, encouragement and skills he gave his athletes translated into huge winning records for Vicksburg’s baseball, cross country, football and wrestling teams; he coached all of these sports at one time or another from 1964 through the current spring season. And he’s not stopping. Although retired from teaching, this is his second year as the assistant coach for softball. He is still having fun, especially since his granddaughter, Shaidan Knapp, is a star at shortstop on a team that will contend for conference champion honors again this year.
He coached baseball for 32 years and the field the boys play on for home games is named after Knapp. His players produced ten conference championships, three district championships, and a total of 393 wins and 205 losses from 1964 to 1998.
He coached wrestling for 27 years, racking up huge wins for a 360-98-2 record from 1971 to 1998. In that time his teams won 15 conference championships and five district championships; he received four regional coach of the year awards. He was inducted into the Vicksburg athletic Hall of Fame years ago.
“Coach Knapp taught determination, perseverance, self-respect, and the value of hard work in order to succeed in wrestling,” says Mike Frederick, now owner of Frederick Construction in Vicksburg. “Besides that, we were the best conditioned team in the conference. After football, you came into wrestling thinking you were in good shape. But the first two weeks of Knapp’s conditioning regime, you thought you were going to die.
“I never heard him raise his voice in all the years he was my coach. When you graduated, you knew you could go out in the world and accomplish anything.”
Cross country was equally successful under his guidance for ten years with a record of 174-56 for both boys and girls teams.
“It’s rewarding to work with young people, as it’s certainly not about the money. It’s about how you approach kids,” he says. “You get after them without demeaning them. What works for some might not work for others.”
Knapp came to Vicksburg from Western Michigan University in 1964 as a student teacher because it was close by his rental home in Lemon Park on Indian Lake. He had spent two years at Jackson Junior College, worked at Sturgis Foundry for two and a half years and served in the military for three years. He met his wife, Sue, when she invited him to her home in Wasepi for cherry pie that purportedly she made. He found out years later that his mother-in-law made the pie. The Knapps raised three sons, Ted, Tom, and Fred, and have five granddaughters.
In those days he played fast pitch softball, threw the javelin on Jackson’s track team and needed another specialty. He chose the 100-yard dash, because he figured he wouldn’t get lapped that way. He played baseball for the junior college when the team played prisoners at Jackson Prison. He tells the story of being let into the prison grounds and watching his team’s lead-off hitter get three balls called that were way wide of the plate. The catcher turned to the umpire with this word of caution, “You call another one like that ump, and I’ll kill you like I did the other six I’m in here for.” The next call was a strike.
Knapp has a profusion of these stories and keeps things light and fun–which is what he thinks sports should be about. Ask any of his former players, like Mike Hill who pitched for him in 1972-73 and today is vice president for sales and marketing for Prab Corporation:
“Ed Knapp’s coaching history is well documented, but details about the man may not be so well known. He keeps the athletes loose, allowing them to perform to their best ability. He shared some really funny one-liners with me as he made a trip to the mound to settle me down or change the pace of the game. I also believe that the dedication he shows to the sport and each student athlete creates an atmosphere where kids don’t want to fail and disappoint him, sometimes even more than they don’t want to disappoint their own parents.
“I have seen Coach Knapp hit fungos from home plate into a five gallon bucket in center field and I would not bet against him being able to do that again today! Ed is one of the finest, most genuine individuals I have ever met and he has been like a second father to me. I would not trust my life to many people, but Ed is definitely one that is in that category.”