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Gschwender named to Hall of Fame
The Missouri Football Coaches Association honored former Louisiana High School Bulldogs Coach Tony Gschwender Saturday, July 21 by inducting him into its Hall of Fame.
He said football is what made him successful in school.
“I wasn’t an ‘A’ student by any means. Football is what got me to go to college, but also allowed me to do my best because, if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to play,” Gschwender said.
When Gschwender was 12 years old, his father died, so his earliest mentors were the coaches at the school.
As a high school student, Gschwender said he always dreamed of someday coaching a team of his own.
Upon graduation from McCluer High School, he entered University of Missouri-Columbia with a scholarship to play football as he pursued his bachelor’s degree in physical education.
“I was lucky enough to travel to the Orange Bowl in 1969, but I didn’t get a lot of game time,” Gschwender said. “I graduated in May 1972 and came to Louisiana in August of 1972 starting out teaching middle school physical education and coaching junior high football, basketball and track.”
At first, he believed serving at a small school like Louisiana would help him build experience so he could move on to bigger and better things. But it turned out to be where he would spend his entire career. “And I loved every minute of it,” he said.
From assistant junior high coach, he next served as head junior high football coach for two years, and advanced to the high school assistant coach for four years in all three sports.
Then, in 1978, he took over as head football coach, while remaining as assistant track coach.
“Coaching was something I wanted to do all my life. I liked athletics and that’s what I wanted to do. And I had good coaches in high school who steered me in the right direction,” Gschwender said. “At that time, football was a fairly new thing. It wasn’t as popular as it is now, but Friday night at McCluer was a big event. It was exciting and I admired the coaches I had. They taught me about fair play and to work hard.”
Gschwender said Jim York, who was the head football high school coach in 1972, and Les Viehmann, the junior high head coach at the time in Louisiana, also later influenced him a great deal.
“As a young coach, I knew it all or thought I did,” Gschwender said in his acceptance speech at the Hall of Fame Banquet. “Fortunately, I came into a situation in Louisiana where the coaching staff was extremely knowledgeable and not afraid to exert authority to shape young coaches. Bill Cunningham (who was inducted into the Missouri Track and Field Hall of Fame last year) was the athletic director. He was like a father to all of us and kept us in line.”
That first year Gschwender was in town, Louisiana made it to the state play offs.
Gschwender described a different type of atmosphere within the city back in the early days of his career.
“Friday night, the town was just about a ghost town because everybody was at the football field or on the road to go to the game in another town,” Gschwender said. “The Louisiana football team was the pride of the town. We used to have great rivalries between Louisiana and Bowling Green or Pittsfield. Macon was always our big game of the year.”
He described the bleachers being full and people would stand four and five deep inside the track to watch the game.
Each game day, he would leave at 4 p.m. to get ready for the game and he would tape a blanket on one of the benches so he could save Denise and their children a seat for the game–it was so crowded.
“Fans occasionally chartered buses to take people to the away games, and there were many instances that Louisiana had more fans at an away game than the home team we were playing that night,” he said. “Business owners would hang signs showing support for the team, and students were encouraged to participate. The parents expected their kids to participate.
Fathers would bring their grade school age children to the games. There were events for the athletes and assemblies at the school.”
The Bulldogs were doing well, and the entire town was excited about it.
The first Louisiana team to go to the state play offs was coached by Jim York in 1972. That team was beaten in the semi-finals by Country Day, Gschwender said.
Viehmann, who was head coach in 1977, saw the team into the state finals, where it was defeated by Monet. Gschwender served as Viehmann’s assistant coach at that time.
The next year, Gschwender would take the reins as head coach at the high school, but he would have a little work to do.
The team lost 30 seniors, so they had some rebuilding to do. Plus they suffered several injuries that hurt them during his first year as head coach at the high school.
“We lost more games than we had in a while,” Gschwender said. “It was a matter of getting my feet under me. The next year, we made it to the play offs.”
There were so many highlights, Gschwender has trouble pointing at any one particular moment.
However, he said he marks the moment he met his wife, Denise, as the most important in his life. They were married approximately 2 1/2 years after he started working at LHS.
“My wife was one of my heroes. While I was out coaching, she was always there taking care of the kids while I was gone,” Gschwender said. “I’m very grateful for that. She kept me grounded and controlled the ‘coaches’ ego’ in me. She was my biggest fan and my biggest supporter because she was the one who had to sit in the stands and listen to all the complaints. She was the one who had to defend my bad calls on Friday night and then at home ask me what I was thinking.”
He gives his wife much of the credit in the success their own children have seen.
“Our oldest son, Stephen, and his wife, Jennifer, both teach and coach in Louisiana. Our son, Scott, teaches and coaches in the Jefferson City School District. Beth, our only daughter, is in the special education department and is the cheerleading sponsor in Bowling Green. Our son, Jeff, is in the alternative program and coaches in Bowling Green,” Gschwender said.
All of their children learned to love and respect athletics much in the same way Gschwender did himself, by participating while they were in school.
In fact, Gschwender had the privilege of coaching all of his children, although it wasn’t an easy thing, he said.
“You don’t want to go the point where they get accused of getting special treatment,” he said. “A lot of times, you’re harder on them than you are on anybody else.”
When the coaching continued after the game or after practice, it was Denise who steered her husband out of the coaching role and back into his role as father.
“There were times at the dinner table that Denise would scold me for coaching them at home,” he said.
Throughout the years, Gschwender said he adapted according to the skills represented on the team each season.
“You have to go along with the times. Coaching high school isn’t the same as college where you can recruit players. In high school, you have to change your coaching to fit the personalities and make up of your team. That changes every year,” Gschwender said.
Gschwender said it was an amazing time that he will never forget.
“Each year, the team continued to get better and better. The school’s first undefeated season with no ties was in 1983. They had an undefeated season in 1973, but they had one tie that year,” Gschwender said. “In 1973, we made it to the semi-finals and got beat on a Saturday afternoon in the mud. In 1985, we had the best team we ever had, but got beat in the quarter finals because we had four key players lost due to injuries.”
However, all their hard work paid off as the Louisiana Bulldogs captured the state championship in 1986.
“We had a group of kids who were bound and determined to win it,” Gschwender said. “We were down several times, but we were able to come back and win.”
After 1986, Gschwender said Louisiana didn’t have quite the domineering team it had in the past. Still, they did well, nabbing several more district championships. The Bulldogs won the conference championship each consecutive year from 1983 to 1987.
He said he feels humbled by the Hall of Fame award.
“Our success in Louisiana was mainly because of so many dedicated athletes, coaches, families, fans, administrators and above all my supportive family,” he said.
Several of his former players attended the banquet in his honor. Some of those attending included Kelly Henderson, Mike Price, Rodney Dolbeare, Chuck Pennewell, Billy Keith, David Cunningham, Jeff Alexander, Ron Walgren, Judd Martin, Donnie Griffith, former Assistant Coach Dennis Griffith and his wife, Peggy, along with several friends.
“If there is one thing I’m proud of is the former players are all in different walks of life, but they are all successful. If they are going to take anything from what they learned from me, I hope it is not to give up and to do their best,” Gschwender said. “This is on honor to me, but I think it’s a tribute to the Louisiana football program–to everyone who was a part of it and to those who are a part of it now.”
Gschwender retired from the school in 2004. He had served as athletic director for Louisiana High School, with 2000 being the last year he coached football, although he continued to coach track through 2004.
He currently works as the recreation director of the Northeast Correctional Center in Bowling Green.