By Bryan Gaskins
Tribune sports columnist
Like many others, I am walking around with a pit in my stomach following the senseless deaths of Dennis and Judy Schulte earlier this week in Seattle. The retired Kokomo couple was walking with their daughter-in-law, Karina Schulte, and her 10-day-old son when they were slammed into by a suspected drunk driver.
Dennis had deep roots in Western athletics. He was a longtime assistant coach in football and wrestling and later the head coach in wrestling. In addition, he was a rock-solid teacher in the math department. Judy worked in education at Northwestern.
I had the chance to know Dennis a little, first as a Western student and later in my role as a sports reporter. He had a friendly personality and was detailed and highly respected as a teacher and as a coach — just the type of person everyone wants in our schools.
Bob Jarrett knew Schulte well. Jarrett was Western’s wrestling coach from 1970-94. Schulte was his middle school coach for a short time and his varsity assistant for 15 or so seasons. Schulte then succeeded Jarrett as the Panthers’ coach when the Hall of Fame skipper stepped down.
“He was just a really nice guy,” Jarrett said. “He was very dependable. His main concern always was the kids. I never had to worry about him not being there or telling the kids the wrong thing. He was just a super assistant coach.
“I’d kid him a lot of times — you always hear about good cop, bad cop. Well, guess who was the good cop?” Jarrett added with a laugh. “I’d chew their butt out and then he’d pat them on the back. It was just a great combination.”
Schulte had a nice run as the Panthers’ head coach. He led the Panther grapplers to sectional titles in 1996, ’97 and ’98 and regional titles in ’95 and ’98.
Schulte left his mark in football, too. He was the offensive line coach for many of Hall of Fame coach Jim Plummer’s best teams.
“He was analytical. That was part of his math [background]. So, everything was about blocking schemes and making it the easiest for his players to do the blocking,” said Ron Phillips, who also was a Panther assistant coach. “He stressed attention to the rules and he expected the kids to be the coaches on the field. He taught them how to recognize things and how to change things on the fly.”
Phillips played for the Panthers, and was a senior linebacker when Schulte joined the Panthers’ varsity staff as linebackers coach in 1975. They later worked closely together as assistants — Phillips as defensive line coach, Schulte as O-line coach.
“I learned everything from him,” Phillips said. “If he did something, he did it right.”
Phillips was hit hard by the news Tuesday morning.
“He was a mentor, a friend. We laughed. There were times we probably cried together,” he said.
Former Western boys basketball coach Andy Weaver had the chance to work with Schulte in the school’s math department. He noted Schulte was a great teacher and an even better person.
“Denny had a genuine care for people. He just had a heart of gold,” Weaver said. “He taught calculus and I believe a lot of honors algebra II so obviously he was very smart, but he was just a people’s person. Kids liked him, adults liked him. He was our fantasy football commissioner for years. Most of all, he was a great husband and great father and I think those are the ultimate compliments.”
The fantasy football league is a gem. The Schulte Hunt Association of Football Teams (SHAFT) is in its 28th year, which means it started long before the Internet and highlight shows made it easy to track stats and roster moves. The league started with 10 members, all Western staff members including Phillips and fellow league namesake Jeff Hunt.
“We know we’re the oldest league in Howard County, we think we may be the second oldest in the nation,” Phillips said.
The league goes on. Life goes on. Sadly, the plague on society that is drunk driving remains. Please, please, please — honor the Schultes by taking a pledge to not drink and drive.
Dennis Schulte — or Mr. Schulte as I always will remember him — made this world a better place. Let’s do the same in his honor.
“Most of us, if we live long enough, we make some enemies, really make some people mad. I don’t think you can find an enemy of Denny Schulte. He was just that kind of guy,” Jarrett said.
Bryan Gaskins is the Tribune’s sports editor. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 765-454-8567.