You could say that Hillsboro High School boys basketball coach Darrel Knoll is stuck in a rut. After all, he’s still in his first job since graduating from Bethel College in spring 1988. But who’s complaining? All he’s done since becoming a 7th and 8th grade language arts teacher and coaching high school basketball the past 33 years is win a lot of games and championships!
In the classroom, Knoll has also taught high school Engligh II and IV, College Composition I and II, High School History and Government and 8th Grade History.
For the record, Knoll’s teams have won 562 games and lost just 210. During that span, the Trojans have won four state championships; three in class 3A in 1991, 1995, and 1998, and one in 2A in 2021. They were also final four co-champions in 2A in 2020, when COVID stopped the tournament.
With Knoll at the helm, the Trojans have played in 14 state tournaments overall.
You know you’ve been at the same school a long time when you are coaching some players whose dads formerly played for you. Grayson Ratzlaff, Brekyn Ratzlaff, and Tyson Plenert were members of this year’s championship team.
Grayson is the son of Damian and Amy Ratzlaff, and Brekyn is the son of Micah and Amanda Ratzlaff. Damian played on Knoll’s 1991 championship team and Micah played on the 1998 championship team. Tyson’s dad, Josh, played for Knoll in 1996 and 1997.
What does Knoll enjoy the most about coaching? “Seeing the success of those who I have coached, not only as players and teams, but also in their chosen careers.”
He also has enjoyed all the relationships he has made over the years – players, assistant coaches, opposing coaches, longtime friends from coaching basketball camps and at speaking engagements, etc.
“And I do enjoy the competition,” he said.
Knoll’s coaching style has remained consistent. “I have always based my philosophy on being fundamentally sound, do a few things really well, and be team-oriented,” he said.
“I still expect players to practice hard, be fundamentally sound, play solid defense, be good teammates, and play with confidence. Also, I want them to carry themselves in a way that people will respect them and the team.”
One thing Knoll is not is a yeller and a screamer. And that includes how he treats officials. He’s had maybe three technical fouls in 33 years. The last technical was around 1993 in a game he believes he was given a technical for something a guy in the stands said behind him.
Coaching basketball during COVID was a challenge. “The hard part was getting used to the idea that our schedule could change in a moment,” said Knoll. “I think it made everyone feel more grateful for the opportunities. Each of us on the coaching staff continually told our players to play for the day, seize the opportunity, and to enjoy the moment.
“Playing without fans didn’t really impact me at all, since I really do tune them out, and I was just grateful and happy that we were getting to play. However, once we got fans, the excitement and the feel was really good, especially down the stretch when more fans were able to attend,” said Knoll.
The two-day turnaround from winning sub-state to playing at home in the first round of the state tournament suited Knoll just fine. “Waiting too long between games can sometimes lead to players being a little tight,” he said. “I felt like we were ready for the challenge.
“It was so great for the community, since each player was able to have a few more fans at the game. What a great celebration afterward – and it was the first time my family and close friends were able to attend this year,” said Knoll.
What does the future hold? “My current plan is to finish two more years,” he said. “I enjoy coaching, and that will get me to 35 years as a head coach and solid retirement age. However, when the time comes, I will make a more definite decision.”
Knoll, selected as Topeka Capital Journal All Class Coach of the Year in Kansas, would be the first to admit that he’s been blessed with a lot of talented student-athletes over the years, but his record speaks for itself. He’s passionate about being a good teacher of the game, cares for his players, and represents the school and community with class.
Thanks, Coach, and best wishes as you approach the final chapter of a long and distinguished career!