For the Becker brothers, the loss is almost immeasurable.
Their beloved coach and mentor is gone.
Jim Koch, who coached the University of Wisconsin-Parkside wrestling team for 41 years before retiring in 2011, died Thursday at Saint Louis University Hospital of injuries suffered Friday when he was struck by a car during a morning run in St. Louis.
Parkside spokesman John Mielke said Koch was in St. Louis for the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships. Koch was 69.
For the Beckers — Brad, Craig, Kyle and Nick — Koch was much more than a coach.
“He was a mentor for all of us,” said Craig Becker, who won an NCAA Division II national title at 149 pounds as a senior in 2010 and is now an assistant to current Rangers head coach Gregg Lewis. “We loved him — he was a second dad to us.
“I can’t speak for everybody else, but for the four Becker boys, he definitely taught us in a way nobody had before. He’ll be remembered forever.”
Craig Becker said that even after his wrestlers graduated, Koch kept track of them and contacted them to see how their lives were going. He even attended weddings and other important life events in which his wrestlers were involved.
“He cared about everyone, from the least talented to the most successful guy on the team,” Craig Becker said. “Coach was there for college and for life.
“He touched so many lives.”
According to a UW-Parkside press release, Koch was the school’s first wrestling coach, starting in 1970 and retiring in 2011. During his 41 years, 14 wrestlers won NAIA or NCAA Division II national titles, 128 earned All-American honors and 80 earned Academic All-American honors. The Rangers finished with a top-10 national ranking in 23 years.
Nick Becker, the only one of the brothers who didn’t have Koch as a head coach, said Koch still was involved in his college career from the start. Becker even visited Koch at his home in the Kenosha area to get advice or just to talk.
“It’s hard to put into words,” said Nick Becker, who on March 11 won his second straight Division II national title at 174 pounds. “When I came to Parkside, I didn’t know what would happen, and coach took me under his wing. He showed me guidance and how to be successful in life — that’s the most important thing.
“He had faith in me at times when I didn’t have faith in myself. I can’t thank him enough.”
Lewis, who became the head coach after Koch retired, said the Rangers’ wrestling program wouldn’t be where it is without Koch’s efforts.
“This is a very sad day,” Lewis said in a press release. “This program was built upon coach Koch’s back. A person doesn’t receive all the honors and recognition he received without having a great career and having the respect of the wrestling community.
“I would be hard pressed to think there is a coach at any level that has had more of an impact on student-athletes, a university or a community than coach Koch.”
Tamie Falk-Day, Parkside athletic director, called Koch a foundation of UW-Parkside.
“Jim was a tireless worker,” Falk-Day said in the release. “He exemplified and lived the spirit of Ranger Athletics: commitment to the student athlete, commitment to the community and commitment to sportsmanship and the competitive spirit.”
Parkside Chancellor Debbie Ford said Koch was a mentor and guide for coaches and student-athletes far beyond the sport of wrestling.
“Jim Koch will be missed,” Ford said in the release. “It is up to us to ensure that his competitive spirit and his dedication to the success of our students live on in Ranger Athletics and throughout the university.”
In 2003, Koch received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Koch was inducted into the UW-Parkside Athletic Hall of Fame in 2012. He also is enshrined in the NCAA Division II Wrestling Hall of Fame, the NAIA Wrestling Hall of Fame, the District 14 NAIA Wrestling Hall of Fame and the George Martin Wisconsin Wrestling Hall of Fame.
In addition to being the wrestling coach, the press release said Koch was a clinical professor for 37 years and was the director of intramural sports for 15 years.
Information regarding funeral services has not been released yet.