VILONIA — Guy Kochel, a former track coach who has had athletes compete in the U.S. Olympic trials, helped relate a life lesson to Vilonia High School students that he’s learned through his experiences.

“If you don’t put something into it, you aren’t going to get anything out of it,” Kochel said Tuesday night at the high school’s athletic banquet.

Kochel was the guest speaker at the banquet and shared a wide range of stories, which involved his father and a few highlights of his coaching career, to those in attendance. That in and of itself was somewhat of an unusual occasion for the 70-year-old Kochel, who said he doesn’t speak at many banquets, adding the last such instance was six years ago. However, he said, he couldn’t turn Vilonia down in lieu of the recent tornado devastation. He also said he and the father of Vilonia assistant football coach John Steward, “go back a long way,” and he attended school with Dr. Frank Mitchell, school superintendent.

According to Steward, who introduced Kochel at the banquet, Kochel coached two world record holders, three Olympic medalists and two American record holders. He was head coach at Arkansas State University for 17 years (1972-1989). His teams won nine conference championships and eight NCAA top-20 finishes. He served as Vertical Jump Chairman for the U.S. Olympic development committee. He was head coach for the U.S. Team in Junior World Championships.  He is best known as the coach of Earl Bell, an Olympic champion and one of the best pole vaulters of all time.

Kochel is on the board of directors of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame and is also a member of the sport's Hall honoring the state's elite athletes, coach and officials. He is in the University of Central Arkansas Hall of Fame and was also inducted into the Arkansas Track and Field Hall of Fame, the Arkansas High School Hall of Fame and the Arkansas State University Hall of Honor. After leaving his post in 1989,  Kochel became a stock broker first with Morgan Stanley and later with Merrill Lynch.

Following Kochel, the remainder of the program was dedicated to Vilonia sports. Andy Ashley, high school principal, introduced the coaches. One coach representing each sport provided an overview of the year regarding their particular sport including wins and accomplishments. They also touted the praises of players and recognized some individuals. 

Several of the coaches also talked about their players off the court. Boys baseball coach Brad Wallace recognized his players for their volunteer efforts during the days after  the tornado.

“Our biggest success this year is something they did off the field,” Wallace said. “As a coach, that makes me the most proud.”

The players, he said, armed themselves with chainsaws, went to Black Oak Ranch and went to work. Other coaches also talked about their players. It was said he girls track team was out, “pulling trees and piling debris” alongside other volunteers.

Due to the tornado, the banquet had been postponed from an earlier date and resulted in several seniors not attending. As awards were handed out, it was said some of the seniors were on a class trip to Panama City Beach.

Cheryl Theall, representing the athletic booster club, recognized the 2010-11 outstanding senior athletes and their sports including Austin Messer, basketball and tennis; Brad Thomas, baseball; Danny Whitehead, tennis; D.J. Crume, football; Drew Knowles, baseball and football; Ethan Knowles, baseball and football; Ethan Tiner, golf; Jordan Ruple, football; Kyle Moore, soccer; Sean Talbert, basketball; Seth Gordan, basketball; Shane Himes, soccer and tennis; Zach Mann, football and cross country; Zachary Jefferson, soccer; Zack Mitchell, football and baseball; Zac Bowling, cross country and bowling; Ally Sweigart, soccer; Ashley Luck, soccer; Betsy Bartlett, basketball; Brittnie Short, cross country; Catherine Puckett, basketball; Catherine Yahn, bowling; Eva Ross, cross country; Halie Freeman, softball; Jordyn Hetherington, tennis; Julie Stanley, basketball and volleyball; Katherine King, swimming; Kayla Embry, soccer; Kelsey Theall, cheerleading and bowling; Maggie Brewer, basketball and volleyball; Sarah Weaver, softball; Scarlett Acklin, cheerleading; Scarlett Green, cheer, softball and volleyball and Tiffany Smith, bowling.

After gthe awards, Mitchell bid farewell to the seniors saying he hated to see them go but now it is “their job” to go on and be successful. He also praised the coaches saying the Vilonia School District seems to “find a lot of good coaches.”

Lastly, he gave an overview of some of the changes for 2011/12 year including placing the cheerleading program under the same rules as the athletic program, standardizing the school’s logo and making available hats, sweatshirts and T-shirts for sale in the school store.

In closing, Ed Sellers, assistant superintendent and athletic director, closed the program thanking the parents, volunteers and coaches. A student’s sport involvement, he said, is a “family commitment.” Both coaches and families, he said, sacrifice family time to participate. 

“For that, I want to thank you all,” he concluded.