As you walk through the doors of room 118 in the wellness and physical education complex at Springfield College, there’s several things you may notice. The first of which is positioned to the left of the room: trophies. From NCAA championships to NEWMAC honors, plaques and honors fill a wooden shelf.
To the direct right of the trophies, hanging on the walls are pictures of former male athletes who have come through Springfield College. There’s one trait they all share: they were NCAA Track and Field champions from different eras in the history of Springfield track and field.
Below the photographs and to the right of the trophies sits the man who led the track and field athletes to their respective championships, and the one responsible for the various trophies and plaques: Springfield College Men’s Track and Field head coach Ken Klatka.
If you sat down and had a conversation with Klatka, you’d struggle to believe he’s coached track and field at Springfield for 46 years. He carries the enthusiasm and excitement of a coach starting his first day on the job. Those powerful emotions are what has kept him and the program so successful for all these years. It’s why he will be missed at Springfield College.
On Dec 7 of this year, Klatka announced his retirement, effective at the end of the current school year.
“It’s the long days,” Klatka said in regards to the reasoning for his retirement. “That’s what’s really worn me down. And I’ve missed my family all these years. I’m a family kind of guy, and I think the athletes on our teams know that. I’m looking forward to spending more time with my wife, with my children, and especially my grandchildren. It’s time.”
Before Klatka ever arrived at Springfield College as a student or a coach, he knew the picturesque campus on Alden Street was his number one choice. He had several physical education teachers throughout elementary school and high school come through Springfield College. His cousin was a Springfield College student as well.
“We talked about Springfield all of the time,” Klatka said. “And I said, ‘This is what I want to do’. I want to teach and I want to coach, that’s the job I want.”
So, Klatka did come to Springfield College as a physical education major. He had a record-breaking career as captain of the school’s cross country team, and upon his graduation in 1969, he stayed at Springfield to earn his Master’s degree in 1970. After that, his long-tenured coaching career began.
“Vern Cox was a great role model,” Klatka said of the incumbent track and field head coach during his time as a student. “After I got my Master’s, I stayed as a graduate assistant under [Cox].”
During Klatka’s year as a grad student, Springfield opened up a position it had never had before: assistant track and field coach.
“I went in there, they interviewed, and they hired me. I never left.” Klatka said.
A program record 451 wins (and counting) later, and Klatka has kept the same love for the sport as he did when he first interviewed for the job. For Klatka, it’s simple what has kept him around – the people.
“Great teachers, great professors, great and wonderful mentors,” Klatka explained. “And the kids. We have great students here. They’re not ‘blue-chippers’. They’re not these 4:10 milers, or 48-second quarter-milers, or seven-foot high jumpers. They’re here to get a good education, and they work hard, and they want to better themselves both academically and on the track.”
The hard-working nature of Springfield College students and athletes has admittedly made Klatka’s job easier, as he explained.
“They come to practice every day, they work hard, and they just want to be better people,” Klatka said. “That’s why I stayed.”
As Dr. Craig Poisson, Springfield’s Director of Athletics, explained, his values match the college’s, and that’s what has kept him around all these years.
“I believe he believes in serving others. He has impacted thousands in his time here. I think his personal values matched the school’s values.” Poisson explained.
With a 46-year coaching career under his belt, Klatka leaves with an unparalleled legacy like no other.
“The three words that popped into my head when I knew he was going to retire were dedicated, caring and genuine,” Poisson said. “He’s the epitome of the humanics philosophy. He’s always been consistent.”
Poisson went on to explain that at home track meets – even with all the support staff Springfield boasts – it was Klatka who was truly running the meet.
“I used to joke with him, saying that he could run a track meet in his sleep.” Poisson said.
Klatka’s retirement lines up with Springfield’s head football coach Mike Delong’s announcement to retire. The 2016-17 season will truly be a changing of the guard for the school’s athletic program.
“The two new coaches will join two new coaches we added this year, to kind of combine with that ‘new phase’ of athletics,” Poisson said. “From my perspective, I have to look at it as an opportunity to improve on what we already do so well.”
Whoever steps into role of men’s track and field head coach come the start of the 2016-17 season will have enormous shoes to fill. After all, Klatka has been around for nearly half of Springfield College’s track and field history (the sport is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year).
“I always tell people, I hope they get a job someday where they can’t wait to get up in the morning and go to work,” Klatka said. “Because that is how it’s been here at Springfield.”