In the mid-1960s, as he began his teaching and coaching career, Bob Kinloch floated an idea to then-Springfield Public Schools athletic director Orville Pottenger.

Having wrestled in U.S. Army, Kinloch asked if the school district could launch a wrestling program.

“He said, ‘We’re not starting wrestling,’” Kinloch recalled, adding that he then ramped up his sales pitch. “I said, ‘It’ll help with football.’ And so after about five minutes, he said, ‘That’s a good idea, Bob.’”

And so began one of the most notable sports careers in Missouri history, as Kinloch coached for more than 50 years – and made his mark mostly in wrestling. Which is why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted Kinloch with the Class of 2023.

Kinloch was a teacher and coach at his alma mater, Central High School in Springfield, from the fall of 1962 until retiring from coaching in 2018. He started the Central wrestling program and helped other city schools launch their wrestling programs.

In fact, his passion for the sport has been rewarded with two organizations showing the ultimate sign of respect.

About 20 years ago, Springfield Public Schools named its annual holiday wrestling tournament the Kinloch Classic. And, in 2020, the National Wrestling Hall of Fame recognized Kinloch with the Lifetime Service Award.

This for a man who coached numerous other sports, including golf for 40 years, football for 17 and assisted in track & field. Yet folks in the wrestling community all across the state – and especially in the Ozarks – always knew Kinloch’s heart was dedicated to wrestling.

After all, in 1967, two years after Central’s program began, Kinloch helped design the school’s wrestling room. The story goes that Kinloch emphasized to the architects that the room’s ceiling could be only eight feet high.

“After they completed it, they said, ‘Why did it need to be only eight feet?” Kinloch said. “I said, ‘So they can’t put a basketball goal in here.’”

Had the room accommodated basketball, in a city that loves the sport, Kinloch figured Central’s wrestling program would be doomed.

The room was a tremendous improvement. Central’s first two seasons were spent in a second-floor machine shop on campus, with radiators not far from the mats. Often, wrestlers would fall out of bounds and strike a radiator, receiving quite a heat shock.

Armed with a new room, Kinloch managed to mold teenagers into competitors and set them up for life. In his first year, there were 15 boys for 12 weight classes. In the program’s third year, Michael Oldham became Central’s first ever state qualifier and placed fifth.

In Kinloch’s mind, the sport would help football players, not only with footwork but offer a winter sport besides basketball. That’s why he pitched the idea to Pottenger, and even had the backing of Central’s head football coach at the time.

“I was glad to start it,” Kinloch said. “I was coaching three sports, and I had three kids and needed the money. I wanted to see what we could do in wrestling.”

Kinloch also knew the positive influence sports could have. He played football at Missouri State University and Friends University in the early 1950s. He later played AAA fastpitch softball, helping teams to world tournaments in 1955 and 1956.

Eventually, he signed a professional baseball contract with the Baltimore Orioles and caught one season in the minor leagues, playing with Cal Ripken, Sr., whose son, Cal Jr., went on to break big-league and world records for consecutive games played.

However, Kinloch was drafted into the Army and by chance was asked to be on a wrestling team, as the squad needed a 189-pounder just to fill out the roster. He loved it.

“That’s when I learned to wrestle and thought it was a good for mental toughness,” Kinloch said. “I got my brains beat in. But when I came back to Springfield, I could see the relationship between football and wrestling. So I put 2 and 2 together.”

Kinloch had always been competitive, too, and knew that building a competitive mindset in teenagers would set them up well to deal with life’s challenges.

He thanks Jim Ewing, the Springfield Parks and Recreation Director, for suggesting that he consider teaching and coaching in public schools.

For all of his success, Kinloch points to so many others – wrestlers, parents, administrators, opposing coaches and more. He also was motivated by numerous family members.

“I just hope I helped a lot of kids along the way,” Kinloch said.