New coach, team carries on legacy of former Hickman soccer coach

Monday, April 20, 2009 | 6:55 p.m. CDT
Tony Gragnani is in his first year as head coach of the Hickman girls' soccer team.

“You’re never tired until you crawl off the field.”— Jon Strodtman

COLUMBIA — Some sayings will never be forgotten, especially for the Hickman girls’ varsity soccer team. Even with a new coach for the 2009 season, the Kewpies keep the legacy of former coach Jon Strodtman alive, especially through his motivating words.

His best-remembered maxim (above) was a motto for the team while he was the head coach and remains its motto today. That was Strodtman's approach to the game: telling his players to never give up no matter how tired they might be. Junior Maggie Pace and senior Lauren Kufnan said they have memories of looking to the sideline and seeing their coach smiling from his wheelchair with an IV in his arm.

“Coach Strodtman will always live here at Hickman,” said new Hickman coach Tony Gragnani, “I want players to remember his lessons even if they never had him as a coach.”

Strodtman was diagnosed with gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors in December of 2000. Yet, he didn’t stop doing what he loved. Strodtman had been coaching the Hickman boys team since 1999 and decided to take on the girls team in 2005. After the 2006 season, Strodtman gave up coaching the boys team, as the August heat would have interfered with his ability to keep hydrated. However, he continued coaching the Kewpies' girls' soccer team until his death on February 11, 2008.

Strodtman was only 45, and his team, as well as the coaching staff, took the loss hard.

"It's hard to describe," said Gragnani, "Anytime you have a new coaching staff just a couple weeks before the start of the season, it's going to be hard. He was their fixture on and off the field. He never complained about what he went through. He was fighting a terminal illness and never gave up on coaching even though he was in pain."

Gragnani said he remembered one time in particular when Strodtman's determination made a difference in a game.

Gragnani recalls the Kewpies' facing Helias in the 2006 district game. Time had run out and the referees were calling the game in favor of Helias. However, Strodtman convinced the referees they had made a mistake.

"He went out there and argued with the ref for the game to go into overtime because of an offsides call," recalled Gragnani, "and the ref finally agreed and we went on to win the game in penalty kicks."

Determination like this, Gragnani said, is what he hopes his team can have.

Now, 14 months later, the Kewpies have coach Gragnani. Gragnani took over the head coaching position for the Kewpies this year, replacing the 2008 interim coaches Jeff Wallace and Sandy Paulson. Both only planned on being coaches for about one year, as they were wanting to return to retirement.

This is Gragnani's 4th year with the Hickman soccer program. His previous three were spent coaching the junior varsity team. Gragnani also worked with Strodtman for two of those years. Although slightly different in coaching strategies, Gragnani does his best to keep Strodtman's spirit alive.

“I definitely model a lot of things he did,” Gragnani said, “I want to teach lessons for on the field, but in other facets of life. Jon showed and talked a lot about perseverance and he never complained. I tell the girls that if you can have the attitude that nothing can get in between you and your goal, then you will always be successful both on and off the field."

His strategy must be working well. The Kewpies say they are pleased with their 4-4 record.

“Nobody can replace Coach Strodtman,” Pace said. “But we are really happy with the season so far.”

Pace played under Strodtman for one year, while teammate Kufnan played under him for three. Kufnan, a senior captain, wears Strodtman’s number 13 on the back of her jersey in his honor.

"To me, that's who Hickman soccer will always model after, Coach Strodtman," said Kufnan.

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