Coach Callahan: Taking kids to the next level
by John Block
KALAMAZOO_"If you never dream the dreams, you never enjoy the desired moment."
That's the philosophy Vic Callahan tries to live, teach and coach by, and a lot of time he's found his dreams coming true.
Callahan, a retired teacher in the Kalamazoo Public Schools system, still coaches the men's and women's varsity golf teams at the high school. His wildest golf dreams came true in 1996. He'll keep on dreaming, but he's not expecting a duplicate of his greatest golf year for a long time.
Callahan's K-Central women's team got the year off on the right track by winning its third straight Class A state championship and being recognized as the finest women's high school golf team in Michigan history.
That team, composed of Beth Cooper, Danielle Strong, twins Jaclyn and Michelle Biro and Sheree Hoover, was as close to perfect as can be. During the spring season, the K-Central girls were 30-0 in Big Eight Conference play, 5-0 in dual meets and 152-0 in tournaments.
"We won nine tournaments," Callahan said. "Every year our goals are to win the conference and to qualify for state. This year we set a new standard in women's golf."
It's not hard to set standards for others when you demand a great deal of yourself. Callahan expects his players to be the best they can be.
"I want every kid in our program to become a better player and a better person," he says.
"Golf lends itself to that because it is a social game."
In addition to guiding his team to a state championship threepeat, Callahan had an outstanding year personally on the golf course. He teamed with Ron Winter to win the Senior Kalamazoo Country Club Invitational Better Ball Championship; he won two mixed tournaments with daughter Teresa and one with another daughter, Rhonda.
He also won the Greater Kalamazoo Golf Association's senior Match Play championship at Heritage Glen Golf Course.
"Everything else was with someone else," says Callahan, 54. "That one proved to me that I could win something by myself."
The road to the top in golf was long and circuitous. Callahan was born and raised in Sheldon, Ill., a little town about 100 miles south of Chicago on the Illinois-Indiana border.
As a youngster, basketball, baseball, track and tennis were his main academic pursuits.
"I thought they made golf courses as places to get worms for fishing," Callahan says.
Sheldon wasn't the biggest school. There were just 24 kids in Callahan's graduating class.
"I always tell my kids that I was in the top 10 in my class," Callahan says. "That wasn't hard to do.
Basketball was Callahan's real love in school. In his senior year, Sheldon went 28-2.
"My career ended there," he says. "I went to Eastern Illinois and tried out for the team, but I was cut."
He still dreamed of coaching basketball.
"That's why I went into education. So I could coach," he says. Callahan and his wife Roxanne grew up together in Sheldon.
"We went to first grade together and rode the same school bus," he says. "We probably started going with each other in eighth grade."
They both attended Eastern Illinois and went into education. "We had our student teaching assignments at the same school in Olney, the home of the white squirrels. We got married before we graduated," he says.
They wanted to try life in a bigger city, so the Callahan's applied to schools around Chicago. He also had an interview with the Kalamazoo school system.
"All we talked about was fishing and the lakes around Kalamazoo," Callahan said. "I never thought much about it. About three weeks later, they sent a contract.
"We hadn't heard from the schools we wanted, so we decided to try it for a year or two, but we never got back."
Callahan began his teaching career at Northeastern Junior High School. He was there for seven years before transferring to Kalamazoo Central where he stayed for 23 more years before retiring from teaching. He continues to coach the men's and women's golf teams.
While at Northeastern, he coached basketball, tennis and football. "I didn't know anything about football," he says. "We didn't have it at my high school."
But like everything Callahan did, he was successful. His team went undefeated.
After moving to the high school, Callahan was an assistant coach in baseball and coached varsity wrestling.
"I didn't really have any choice," he says. "They needed a coach and told me I was it. I had to learn all about it because I'd never wrestled."
He read, went to clinics and turned out a succession of strong teams, proving that hard work pays off.
"I was fortunate," he says. "I had a lot of good tough kids."
When the program was cut back and Callahan didn't feel he could do justice to the sport, he gave up the coaching post.
"It was probably a blessing because I was able to spend some time with my daughters," he says.
By that time, Callahan and Roxy had three daughters, Sheila, Teresa and Rhonda.
"There were times when I felt guilty about neglecting them," Callahan says, "so this was a good break for me."
When he came to Kalamazoo, Callahan's main form of recreation was tennis. He took up golf, but not seriously.
"I started out using Roxy's grandfather's hickory shaft clubs," he says. "I didn't play much, maybe once a week. I started out making only $4,800 a year and Roxy wasn't working because she was pregnant when we got to Kalamazoo."
Callahan wanted to pad his income, so with two friends he bought and operated a driving range. That's when he got serious about golf.
"I was able to hit a lot of balls then and that really made a difference in my game," he says.
Callahan was still playing tennis, but realized that he couldn't do both and be good and it wasn't in his nature to settle for less.
"I had two brothers and a sister and we were always competitive," he says. "I didn't like to be second."
Callahan played in a scratch league with Bob Treloar, another teacher and Callahan's predecessor as golf coach.
"Bob asked me to help him. He said he wanted me to take over the program. I think he wanted to give up the girls team."
Callahan started with the girls in 1986 and took over the entire program the next year.
He's been working with his kids ever since, turning out some outstanding golf teams as well as outstanding individuals. Both go hand-in-hand and are the result of him caring and wanting himself and his kids to be the best.
"One of the joys of coaching," he says, "is getting kids to a new level. It's a thrill to see them achieve."
Callahan inherited a solid, good program from Treloar, and he's kept it going by instilling his values into his players. It's a year-round program and the end reward was the three consecutive state championships.
The players lift weights and work out in the off season. It isn't required, but recommended and they are able to see the benefits.
"We also encourage them to take part in our 365 club," Callahan says.
That requires playing a lot of golf between May 15 and August 15. There are levels of achievement. The Birdie is playing 365 holes in that period, including being in five tournaments. To attain Eagle status requires 500 holes and eight tournaments and Double Eagle is 800 holes and 10 tournaments in the time period.
"In the last three years, I've had three girls and two boys play over 1,000 holes," Callahan says. "They might not actually play all those holes. If their schedule is restricted and they don't have time for a full time, I give them credit for nine holes if they practice chipping, pitching and putting for an hour.
"The goal, though, is to have them play every day."
Success doesn't always breed success. Numbers on the women's golf team weren't great the last four years. Cooper, Strong and the Biros were all four-year varsity members. Newcomers realized they wouldn't have much playing opportunity.
Kalamazoo won the Big Eight title all four years and was second in the state tournament in 1993 before embarking on its title run.
In the four years those girls provided the nucleus of the team, Kalamazoo lost just nine times. Over the three championship seasons, the team face 510 teams and beat all but two of them.
The team set a state record last year with a 313 total in the Kalamazoo Giant Invitational at Pine View.
Those four girls have taken their talents to another level. Cooper is at Notre Dame, Strong is playing at Wisconsin and the Biros are at Eastern Kentucky. That in itself is rather awesome.
"It may never happen here again," Callahan says of the chances of having such a talented group at the school again.
Since 1986, his girls' teams have won the Big Eight Conference eight times, placed second twice and third once, his first season.
He's had talented players, but he's also helped them with his instruction and personal guidance on attitude, desire and course management. He's also had to adjust to the different personalities.
"You have to change your thinking from wrestling to golf," Callahan says, "and you have to change from coaching golf in the spring (girls) to the fall (boys).
"It's harder to coach girls, because they're more emotional, but it's easier to be successful with girls."
Callahan knows what he's talking about, especially after raising three daughters. He taught them how to play golf and he caddies for daughter Teresa in tournaments and she's toted his bag as well.
Being a golf coach doesn't necessarily give one the opportunity to play a lot.
"You don't just send the kids out to play, then forget about them and go play yourself," Callahan says. "It takes a lot of time and preparation. I'm on the course helping my players and giving them support.
"I've always said that you can't coach well and teach well at the same time. Both require a lot of time and if you do one well, the other will suffer during the season."
Callahan taught in the business education department at Kalamazoo Central, but since he's retired he has more time to devote to his game. He still is not satisfied with mediocrity. He's probably harder on himself than he is on his players.
"I never had the opportunity or chance to practice a lot when I was teaching," he says. "Once the high school season starts, I don't play.
"After I retired, I found the time to play five or six times a week and prepare the way I wanted to. I exercise and try to stay in shape and I hit a lot of balls. It's helped."
The effort and hard work has paid off handsomely.
"It's been a good year," he says in an understatement. "It may never happen again."
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