Tales from the Beat: Herchek was much more than what people saw from the bleachers

By Tom Nader | Sports Editor Published:

John Herchek is known by many as the angry man whose sometimes screaming instructions to his players — or into the ear of the nearest referee — retired as the coach of the Waterloo boys basketball team in 2012.

Herchek himself wouldn’t even disagree with those who remember those moments.

For me, though, those snapshots of erupted emotions fall into the background of the coach I got to know.

His momentary reactions are the underlying foundation of an extreme competitor, but they don’t completely overlap what I got see as a reporter for the Record-Courier.

As a young kid growing up in Rootstown, and later as a player and Waterloo opponent, I never had the chance to know Herchek as anything other than a coach.

That all changed when I started working at the R-C.

Through interviews, casual conversations and close interactions, I was able to see all of the other layers that had been there all along.

The teacher, the leader, the father, the husband, the friend.

I got to witness and experience more than just his game-day emotions.

I got to see the compassion, the humor, the love, the respect, the loyalty.

As a coach, he was always emotionally invested into his team, his players and the game’s outcome. And, oftentimes, that would lead to an emotionally charged moment when his voice was the loudest in the gymnasium.

Sometimes his players were in the crosshair of the vocal outburst, sometimes (maybe most of the time) the referees and sometimes just random frustration — directed at no one in particular — that simply had to find an exit from Herchek’s body.

When it came time for an interview, Herchek was always a professional. Never once did he treat me poorly. Never once was he short with me in time or in replies. Never once did he avoid an interview after a loss — no matter how heartbreaking or lopsided it may have been. He was always available, always straightforward, always helpful, always accurate and always trusting. I can honestly say that not all coaches live up to one of those, let alone all of them.

There are few coaches I can say went out of their way to make me feel more comfortable during an interview. Especially during my time as a young reporter.

Herchek spent 33 years coaching the Vikings and 31 in the Waterloo School District combined as a Social Studies teacher, dean of students and athletic director.

During that time, he positively impacted hundreds of students and athletes who became meaningful pieces of their communities. People who are now willing to scream as loud as he did on occasion to express their appreciation for him.

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