By Jason Haddix
Going out on top would be the dream for everyone in sports. Chuck Koeppen, one of five coaches who will be inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame June 27 at the 2013 National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Summer Meeting in Denver, did just that in 2008 when he retired from high school coaching a state champion once more.
Carmel (Indiana) High School – Koeppen’s home for the majority of his coaching career – is known for winning athletic championships – 113 to be exact. It is the most by any one school in Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) history, with the next closest being Indianapolis North Central High School with 58. It seems only fitting that the coach with the most state championships be at the school with the most. Koeppen’s 23 titles is tops in the Hoosier state and accounts for 20 percent of the Greyhound’s hardware.
“Chuck was one of a handful of faces that people associated with our school,” said Carmel Athletic Director Jim Inskeep. “He did a lot more things for us than just coaching. He worked at football games as the official timer and the scoreboard at basketball games. If there was event or something to support, Chuck was there. He bled blue and gold.”
For 37 years, Koeppen led the boys and girls cross country teams at Carmel. During that time, the Greyhounds achieved tremendous success under the tutelage of the native Hoosier.
“I was very young and had just come home from the Olympic trials when I took the job at Carmel,” Koeppen said. “It was just a perfect fit with a bunch of young kids that were willing to work hard. We instilled a sense of pride in them about Carmel cross country.”
It was not long before Koeppen turned Carmel into a running machine and perennial finalist at the IHSAA state championships. Koeppen was hired to lead the Greyhounds in 1972 and in just four years, they were standing atop the podium as champions.
Carmel’s 1976 cross country state title kicked off an impressive 20-year run for the boys team as it captured 10 team championships and finished second six times. During the 1980s, Carmel missed being first or second just once – 1983.
That season was the only one between 1981 and 1996 when a Carmel cross country team – boys or girls – did not earn a first- or second-place finish in the state championship. Four times during that span, the teams hoisted the championship trophy the same year.
As a physical education teacher, Koeppen knew that running was a common punishment for many high school aged youths who did not like to run. Inskeep though, said making running fun was a gift that Koeppen had, which translated to success.
“We took the ones who wanted to run and enjoyed doing it,” Koeppen said. “Anytime you’re very good at something you enjoy doing it. We made the kids proud of what they were doing.”
His fingerprints on cross country were not just confined to Carmel, but extended throughout the state.
“Chuck had a huge impact on cross country in the state of Indiana,” Inskeep said. “The things that he did over three decades really raised the bar for other schools.”
Inskeep noted that Koeppen’s blueprint was a reflection of his pursuit for excellence. To bring out the best in the student-athletes, a year-round conditioning program was established for his teams. They were not required to attend, but many did as they picked up their coach’s dedication to the sport. As other Indiana schools picked up on his successful plan, many began preparing for the season in similar fashion.
“You can have a conditioning program (through the IHSAA) that involves running and lifting weights,” Koeppen said. “I always made it where they could come at eight in the morning or six at night. I was there both times and figured if I offered it both times, they would come to one of them.”
Former Greyhound J.D. Smith said that Carmel’s success was in part due to Koeppen’s leadership, knowledge, dedication and competitiveness.
“He is one of the fiercest competitors I have ever known,” said Smith, who was a senior runner on Carmel’s 2008 state championship team. “It didn’t matter if it was a dual meet or the biggest meet of the year; he always wanted maximum effort out of every one on the team – not just the varsity guys.”
For Koeppen, his high school career was capped off by what he calls his most meaningful championship – his last one in 2008. It was the fifth time both the boys and girls won the state title in the same year.
“I knew that was going to be my last year as the coach and the kids knew it,” Koeppen said. “I wanted to win both (boys and girls) awfully bad.”
Smith said Carmel had some solid teams the three years prior to the 2008 season, but just never got it done. For the four seniors on the boys team, it was the last chance for them and for Koeppen to go out on top.
“It was our goal and his goal to win it,” Smith said. “We finished the job that we started four years prior in our freshmen year.”
Koeppen recalled that the girls victory in 2008 was not in question, but the boys results were much closer. He said a reporter, who he barely knew, was the recipient of a hug after informing him of the victory.
“Other than the birth of my children and all that stuff, that was probably the happiest day of my life,” Koeppen said. “That is not to take anything from (the other championships), but I wanted 2008 really, really bad.”
Those victories were the last of his hall of fame high school career, but not the last as a coach. Koeppen accepted a new challenge after retiring from Carmel when he took over the boys cross country program at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
“It would not have been complete in 2008 if we would not have won both,” Koeppen said. “I wanted to go out on top and if we would not have won both, I would have been very disappointed. (Winning both) made it a perfect ending.”
Koeppen’s induction into the hall of fame makes him the 13th member from Indiana and the 10th track/cross country coach among the 140 coaches.
“I know for a fact that it is no easy task to get into (the National High School Hall of Fame),” Koeppen said. “For me, it is a great thrill. I don’t think I could be honored any more than receiving that award. That is probably as good as it gets.”
About the Author: Jason Haddix is a 2013 summer intern in the NFHS Publications/Communications Department. He is a senior at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis studying journalism and medical imaging.