John Kirchhof Brings Passion, Experience to Ramsey Track

Spotlight: John Kirchof from The Ram on Vimeo.

Jackie Kuczynski

Ramsey+Cross+Country+Boys%27+Varsity+wins+the+county+title+on+Saturday%2C+October+29th+at+Darlington+County+Park.

Ramsey Cross Country Boys’ Varsity wins the county title on Saturday, October 29th at Darlington County Park.

Jackie Kuczynski, Spotlight Editor

Around late September each school year, every student and teacher figures out their route to each class. Chances are you see the same people around the same location in the hallway every time you go to a certain class. There’s a time between two morning classes where a voice becomes familiar and laugh very distinct.

Coming around the corner is a man with a mug in his hand and energy in his stride. A smile appears on his face as he nods and says “good morning!” to the occasional student, usually one of his athletes. He only glances down at his coffee every few steps, then picks his head back up to greet another student. Even for a student who has never gone out for the cross-country team, he flashes a smile and gives you a “good morning!” You know who he is and, although he might not know your name, his face is friendly and his presence is inviting.

Best known as just “Kirch,” Mr. Kirchhof’s athletes describe him as “experienced; he knows what he’s doing and he does it well,” and “the most influential man I’ve had for running to this date.” When asked about him, one runner simply replied, “Kirch, what a guy.” Whether he’s the coach or the man himself, people seem to speak greatly of him; and he has what it takes to receive such high praise.

Running is life; life is not running.”

                Mr. Kirchhof began running cross country as a freshman at Bergenfield High School.  One day, the high school cross country team went down to the middle school and raced the kids there. That is when Mr. Kirchhof decided to run cross country.

After high school, he continued running at Fairleigh Dickinson with a scholarship, then transferred to Montclair State after his first semester. After college, Mr. Kirchhof was sponsored by Adidas, which is one of his proudest accomplishments. Also on his list of accomplishments was running a 5k in 14:48 and finishing 18th in a New Jersey marathon in the 1980s. Mr. Kirchhof is a man of many miles, and despite enduring some knee problems, he manages to pull off a few miles every day and ran a 5k with his family last year.

“I’m a low mileage program,” meaning that he does not want to put too much pressure on his runners because he wants them to run for life, while still reaching their full potential. Although his daughter was a gymnast when she was younger, she began running only a few years ago and loves it. In fact, Mr. Kirchhof and his daughter are currently training for a marathon. His son was not a runner either; instead, he wrestled and pole vaulted. That says something about a father; when he is willing to pursue his dreams and accomplish his own goals, but when it comes to his kids, he allows them to do what they love.

“Whatever you decide to do in life, have passion.”

                Mr. Kirchhof shared that if he had not become a teacher and a coach, he would have become a police officer because he would still be able to work and interact with people.

Nevertheless, in 1984, Mr. Kirchhof began teaching and coaching at Ramsey High School. The cross country and track programs at the time were big and established, except for the girls’ track team. There were only 8 girls for the first few years that Mr. Kirchhof coached. The first two years the team record was only 1-10, but around 1987, everything seemed to improve. In the 1990s, he stopped coaching winter track when the program was temporarily cut, and he coached swimming.

For 18 years, Mr. Kirchhof co-taught with Mr. Molino, Ramsey’s late, beloved athletic director. They spent the first two periods of each school day in the classroom together. Being incredibly close, Mr. Kirchhof says that he had more fond memories teaching with Molino than he has had in cross country; and he has had extremely fond memories during cross country. Mr. Kirchhof has been teaching for 29 years, and when asked about future plans, besides spending more time with his wife, he said retirement, but quickly added that he still loves the classroom.

 

Don’t just settle.”

                In June 2010, Mr. Kirchhof was named “Coach of the Decade” by the Bergen Record. The article recognized several of his accomplishments such as winning State Group titles three times in the 1990s, and winning nine Bergen Group titles nine years out of the ten in the 2000s. Mr. Kirchhof led the Rams to State Groups every year, winning sectional titles in 2000 and 2009. In the 2000s, his teams had four Top 10 State finishes and three Top 5 Bergen Meet of Champions finishes. In the 2012 season, the boys’ and girls’ teams took the League title, the boys won the County and the girls took State Sectionals. In the 2013 season, both boys and girls took league and county titles home, the girls brought home state sectionals again and the boys placed second at sectionals. both teams remained undefeated the entire season. remained undefeated. One of his proudest moments was having one of his own female athletes winning the State Meet of Champions. It’s not only his teams’ success that would cause him to receive such an honor.

Boys Varsity Cross Country team wins the county title on Saturday October 26th, with Coach DiStaso and Coach Kirchhof, at Darlington County Park.

As a man of heart and soul, Mr. Kirchhof is committed to his sport and to his athletes. In high school, he worked tremendously hard to build himself up as a runner, and confirmed “I have never had a bad race ever.” After admitting to having his own bad days, he says in order to recover from bad races; you have to remember that you did the work, so you just have to look forward to the next race. He’s a reasonable person: he tells you what you did wrong and he might be upset, but he doesn’t go over the line. When his own athletes have bad races, he says that they are harder on themselves than he is.

Few things tend to grind his gears: waste of talent, not reaching full potential and when kids think too much about the sport. Many runners start from the bottom and reaching their potential is different for each runner; however, reaching this potential makes Mr. Kirchhof extremely proud. One year Mr. Kirchhof had a boy who had one goal, which was to run a 5k in under 30 minutes. While the average 5k time for a boy in high school is well under 20 minutes, Mr. Kirchhof did not give up on this runner. Other coaches questioned Mr. Kirchhof, but when this runner finally broke 30 minutes in a meet, Mr. Kirchhof was still proud of him. Another girl could not run a 1.7 mile loop through the country club, but this same runner ended up being a four-time All-American at The College of New Jersey. In fact, many of Mr. Kirchhof’s athletes go on to run in college and beyond. He is truly dedicated to each athlete, and drives each of them to succeed.

Senior and captain Sami Ellougani explained how Mr. Kirchhof inspired him to run in college by making him learn to believe in himself and that anything is possible. “During tough work outs, you’re mentally tired, physically dead, and you want to give up. But Kirch keeps me going; he taught me to push myself.”

Ramsey Girls Varsity Cross Country

“You gotta stay around good people; gotta stay away from the haters.”

                Find Mr. Kirchhof in the hallway and he opens the door for you. He’s a gentleman. Pull out a chair in front of his desk and sit down. He’s not like other teachers; if you come to him for something, he focuses on nothing else but you. He’s not checking his e-mail or updating grades or doing any other teacher business. He’s very personal and personable. He’s sitting down, relaxed; he leans back occasionally, smiles often and makes eye contact. Usually around teachers or faculty you don’t know well, you’re uptight and possibly shy or uncomfortable. But he’s sitting there, approachable, charismatic, and that smile crosses his face again. You can’t tell if he realizes he’s doing it.

“You’re very inviting… you really tend to attract people to yourself.” He laughs and replies, “What kind of people?”

“I deal with great kids.” Although he coaches the boys and girls the exact same way, Mr. Kirchhof tries to personalize each of his runners, because everyone is an individual. He’s protective over his athletes as he follows them on their runs by biking or driving with them, although he used to run with them. He strongly believes that running builds character: that a distance runner is self-reliant, driven, and they are perseverant because they know all the ups and downs.

Mr. Kirchhof says that cross country is a team sport and each person is needed. He tells his runners to concentrate on their own running, and not to worry about their competition. He says that when you take care of your own business, you’ll be your competition. As for your teammates, you just need to “have faith in one another.” Cross country builds a family, and his athletes, whom he tries to get the best out of, assimilate comfortably into this family.

“The most influential father-figure I have ever had,” is what Ramsey High School graduate and current runner at Bloomsburg University Danny Dugan, used to sum up Mr. Kirchhof in one sentence. Sami Ellougani praised Mr. Kirchhof, saying that he puts effort and thought into everyone on the team and connects with everyone around him. Over his years running under his coaching, he said his relationship with Mr. Kirchhof has grown a lot and he’s learned a ton about him. Despite being intimidated by him as a freshman, he now considers his coach as a great friend.

Dedication, motivation and a heart of gold are possessed by Mr. Kirchhof as he literally runs his athletes, and most likely his students as well, across the finish line of their goals. Many of his athletes would not be where they are today, nor would they feel so inspired, if they had any other coach.

All teachers would want to see their students succeed, but few can really give their kids what they need in order to reach their goals; just as any coach wants to see his team win and his athletes perform well, but few have what it takes to inspire and incline such a forceful determination in their athletes. Mr. Kirchhof does exactly that, while maintaining a charisma that makes him more than just a fantastic coach. It is not often you come across an individual that has such a unanimous opinion about him; that opinion is “awesome.”

Mr. Kirchhof’s success as a coach led to his induction into the New Jersey School Counselor Association (NJSCA) Hall of Fame on March 27th, 2011. Inevitably and undoubtedly, he deserves this honor for being more than a coach to each one of his athletes. Mr. Kirchhof believes that cross country is a family, and he upholds that belief by creating that family. At the end of the cross country interest meeting, Mr. Kirchhof asked the newcomers to stick around for a few extra minutes. He told them, “Congrats on choosing the best sport ever.”

Kirch and captain Sami Ellougani

Often people are remembered for their own accomplishments. However, maybe it’s not about someone’s success, but how he successfully influences others to succeed.