Jays wave goodbye to beloved coach

TEMP ORARY February 23, 2012 0

Athletics department celebrates Yvonne Kauffman’s legacy in grand fashion.

Team photos, awards and other mementos decorate the walls of Yvonne Kauffman’s office. For over 40 years, this legendary coach has touched the lives of hundreds of students through both coaching and teaching. Kauffman, current head coach of Elizabethtown College’s women’s basketball team, announced back in November her plans to retire after the season. While she is looking forward to having the extra hours to work on her golf game and spend time at her beach house, Etown athletics will be missing one of its greatest and most successful coaches.

Growing up the youngest of five children, Kauffman spent most of her time outside on her family’s farm, playing with her brothers. They spent afternoons playing games like cops and robbers and cowboys and Indians. It wasn’t until Kauffman’s family moved into town that she started playing basketball and baseball on the playground with the neighborhood boys. She recalled with a grin, “They wanted me to play on the boy’s baseball team, but my mom wouldn’t let me.”

As Kauffman grew up, sports consumed her life, and she continued to wrestle with her neighbors and play baseball on the playground. In sixth grade, there was a girl in her town who was going off to college to be a physical education teacher. “She was my idol,” Kauffman said, “and I decided in sixth grade that I wanted to be a physical education teacher.”

To accomplish that dream, Kauffman headed off to Bridgewater College in Virginia. There she played field hockey, basketball and tennis. Her weakest sport was basketball because her high school did not have an official team. “My freshman year [my coach] kept 24 players, and I think I was player 24,” Kauffman joked.

However, she trained hard and ended up starting by her sophomore year.

After graduation, Kauffman landed a teaching job at Etown. In her first year, she only taught physical education classes. She continued teaching classes over the years, swimming and badminton being her favorites. Her coaching career commenced in 1967 when she was handed the field hockey team. Kauffman took hold of the tennis team in the spring of 1970, and later that year, she was coaching the basketball team as well. For 12 years, Kauffman coached all three of these sports at once and amassed over 1,100 total wins for the three sports combined. Due to the increasing time spent on recruiting efforts in the offseason, Kauffman stopped coaching the tennis team in 1983 and the field hockey team in 2000.

Throughout the years, Kauffman has had some great moments in her coaching career. Apart from leading the basketball team to win the NCAA championship in 1982 and 1989, Kauffman has had other great milestones. She attributes last Tuesday’s home game against Lycoming College as one of those times. President Strikwerda and Athletic Director Nancy Latimore announced that Thompson Gymnasium’s basketball court is now named Kauffman Court in honor of Kauffman’s achievements. “That’s the best Valentine’s Day I’ve ever had,” Kauffman said.

Looking back on her decades of coaching, Kauffman has enjoyed her relationships with players, coaches and opponents the most. “That’s what I’ll miss the most — the interactions with players and coaches,” she said.

Kauffman has also learned some important life lessons from her years of coaching. “You learn a lot about how to deal with individuals,” she said. “Each one gives you a bit of information you use later on, whether it’s the psychological part of coaching or the skill part.”

Kauffman also laughed about some of the funnier times of coaching. She told stories about teams stuffing her purse with silverware when she went to the restroom at a restaurant and the time a player almost missed the bus coming back home.

However, Kauffman did mention her least favorite part of coaching. “I think the thing I hate the most is deciding who plays and who doesn’t play and feeling really badly about the ones that you have to cut and the ones who don’t get in to play but come to every practice,” she said. Through the happy and sad moments, Kauffman has amassed much coaching advice to impart to her fellow coaches: know your athletes as individuals, be consistent with players and be as fair as you can.

Although her trips to multiple conference championships and NCAA tournament appearances were rewarding, Kauffman is ready to hang up her whistle. After one of her brothers passed away last March, she decided to take more time for herself. “Also, I just feel that it is time for a new coach to take over,” Kauffman said. “I feel that I’m leaving the program on the upswing.”

However, she will be keeping herself busy. Kauffman plans to stay involved with sports during her retirement. She will be helping run sports tournaments over school breaks for high school and college teams in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She also plans to do some of her own traveling.

As for those who think Kauffman’s legacy stops outside the confines of Thompson Gym and the Jay Walk: during the interview, one of Etown’s maintenance workers came into the conference room. He bounded in to pull Kauffman into a tight hug and congratulate her on Kauffman Court. As he was leaving, he said, “You’ve had a hell of a run, girl.”

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