Former coach, sports enthusiast to retire at end of semester

Teacher, coach, educator – particularly in physical education – husband and father. These are just a few of the titles Steve Kurth has assumed throughout his career at UW-Eau Claire.

The associate dean of the School of Education and former athletic director plans to retire after this year as he looks to pursue other interests.

“I can’t afford to work anymore after all the movie offers I’ve received,” Kurth said jokingly. “I’m going to search to rediscover play. I mean that in the context of doing things for the sake of doing them, beginning with improving my golf game.”

The Eau Claire native attended St. Patrick’s grade school and Regis High School, 2100 Fenwick Ave. He graduated from high school in 1957.

After a single year at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., Kurth returned to his hometown to attend UW-Eau Claire, where he was a two-sport athlete, playing football and basketball. He was an all-conference center and linebacker for the Blugold football team and was named co-MVP in 1960.

“I was a gym rat,” Kurth said. “That was back in the days where you played both ways. I can remember games where I never came off the field.”

Following graduation, Kurth taught and coached football and basketball at Cadott High School, about 35 miles northeast of Eau Claire, for two years before joining the Peace Corps.

“The Peace Corps was relatively new at the time,” Kurth said. “They were starting a new physical education coaching project, which interested me.”

Kurth recalled John F. Kennedy’s visit to Eau Claire and his support of the Peace Corps. Kennedy’s movement influenced Kurth as someone who attempted to make a difference.

In Africa, Kurth helped coach the Moroccan national basketball team, leading it to the gold medal in the 1965 Pan-African games.

“There were several coaches there coaching a variety of sports,” Kurth said. “I was invited to coach basketball and I still have some great memories.”

Kurth received his master’s degree in physical education from Washington State in 1966 and his doctorate from Oregon in 1968. He then returned to his alma mater as a member of the physical education and athletic departments.

“He’s a great person to work for,” said Tim Petermann, assistant to the athletic director. Petermann has worked under Kurth as sports information director.

“Sometimes in athletics people can have tunnel vision,” Petermann said. “Dr. Kurth always saw the real issue. He could bring everyone together to focus on the real issue at hand and how it affected everyone.”

Kurth also was an assistant coach for Ken Anderson’s Blugold basketball team for seven years and assistant for Link Walker’s football team for 15 years.

“I know that the players who played for him have great respect for him and what he gave them,” Petermann said. “He knew his role as assistant coach and was part of a very successful football program.”

For eight years, Kurth served as chair of District 14 of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics after two years as a member of the executive committee. He also has chaired the NAIA district chairs and NAIA divisions of competition committees.

Once Eau Claire moved from NAIA to National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III, Kurth became a member of the NCAA Division III Ice Hockey Committee.

“For six years, I was part of the committee that ran the national tournament,” Kurth said. “Our committee picked what teams were included in the tournament.”

Kurth reflected on the joys that have come from coaching numerous athletes throughout the years.

“There are few places in terms of learning environment where you match up what exists in sport,” he said. “In teaching and coaching, I saw the intensity that students and athletes put into things.”

Kurth said the relationships with athletes are the closest thing you can have to family because they all are interested in the common cause.

The element of competition makes you recognize there are winners and losers, he said.

“There’s nothing like the feeling of ecstasy that goes with winning championships, and there’s also the empty feeling of defeat. The real issue, though, is being there and playing the game.”

Kurth was brought up playing sports in the Packer coach Vince Lombardi era where intensity was a prerequisite to every battle on the playing field.

“If you’re approaching the game not caring who wins or loses, you’re in trouble,” Kurth said.

That’s the attitude that has brought Kurth thus far. And continuing with his upbeat, positive attitude, Kurth’s golf game should drastically improve.