Building a legacy

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

When our time on this earth is over, what will we leave behind? Did we make a difference in some way for our community and those around us? How will we be remembered?

Jon Kachniewicz and Dave Smith, long-time Vicksburg High School track and field coaches, have begun that type of reflection and are just beginning to realize the impact of their many years of coaching.

Kachniewicz has coached track for VHS for 47 years; Smith for 26. Kachniewicz was a beginning teacher and coach when Smith was a high school athlete competing for Loy Norrix, where he still holds the record for the 300 hurdles.

The two’s admiration for each other and their very different coaching styles is clear.

“Years ago, when Dave took over the program, he asked me to join him. I said, ‘Are you crazy? Are you sure that’s a good idea?’ I still remember that conversation,” says Kachniewicz.

Kachniewicz is a master communicator. When he talks to someone, he is all in. As a recipient of his focus and undivided attention, it feels that at that moment you are all that matters. “Everyone deserves that, especially kids,” he says.

Whether in his classroom or on the field, Smith is the hub of the wheel. He is continually surrounded by kids who adore him and work hard to please him. “I set a high bar,” says Smith, “and most of the time, kids reach it.”

Since that time, the two created a legendary program, stressing discipline, consistency, and work ethic.

Kachniewicz emphasizes the discipline involved in running. “No, working out for track isn’t fun, and it’s something we talk with our athletes about—we stress how important it is to do the right thing and commit.”

Smith shares a more personal story, saying, “Working with Jon and creating our program changed my life. We work with great kids and have had great success.”

Yes they have. During their span with Vicksburg’s program, the team has produced at least six state champions, six conference championships, and five regional championships. The two have also been recognized and honored by their colleagues.

Vicksburg’s Athletic Director Michael Roy says, “If we loaded all the qualities for a perfect coach in a 3-D printer and pressed the button, it would print out these two men. They are outstanding and the type of adults who should be working with young people.”

I concur.

Today, Kachniewicz and Smith assist the team as volunteers—a situation that pleases head coach Cody Caswell. “Being an athlete for them is one of the most prominent memories I have from high school sports. They had a huge impact on why I chose to go into coaching. I started my coaching career with them the year after I graduated, and I will always be honored to work with them.”

In a recent photo, Kachneiwicz and Smith stand proudly behind some of their former athletes, now current Vicksburg track and field coaches. Besides Caswell, Sawyer Duncan is head coach for Vicksburg Middle School’s track team, Zak Haines coaches sprinters, Lucas Wolthuis is the girls track coach, Jacob Klimp helps at the middle school, and Chris Chesser coaches jumping events and sprinters.

“I couldn’t be prouder of them,” says Smith as he examines the picture of the men. “They are from some of the best teams we ever had, and they believe and practice what we find important.”

Kachneiwicz and Smith are both amazed and humbled by the realization of the lasting effects of their guidance and coaching.

Brick by brick, conversation by conversation, Kachneiwicz and Smith have created a living legacy.

It’s a Fine Life.

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