We no longer live in a time where people stay in the same job for 30-plus years. We’re more transient now, able to move from place-to-place and job-to-job without much of a second thought.
Spend 37 years working in one place? Who would do that?
Don Knapp, that’s who.
The former Rolla High School cross country and track & field coach found a home early on in life, and never wanted to leave. His loyalty and his incredible success coaching – a resume which includes 180 individual All-State selections, 12 individual state champions, one Olympian and two All-Americans – make the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proud to induct Knapp as a part of the Class of 2023.
When he first got into coaching, Knapp never imagined he’d stay 37 years in one place.
“Rolla was a good place for our family,” he said. “We liked the community and area. Rolla had everything we wanted. It was a good location, and it had a good educational system. Rolla was small enough to be comfortable, and yet also big enough to have lots of amenities.”
He felt the same way about Rolla High School and the support his program received.
“Rolla is an exceptional school in a nice community,” Knapp said. “It was a good place for our family to grow up. Our children went to really good schools there. We had lots of school and community support for our sports. There were many good people to work with. The athletes and facilities were very good. We enjoyed the jobs, the location, and the progressive environment.”
Not surprisingly, Knapp has several strong memories of his time at Rolla, especially when it came to working with Rolla athletes.
“Helping kids train, develop, and find success in cross country and in track was one of the best parts of the job,” Knapp said. “The teams won conference meets, district meets, broke school records, and they had fun. The state meets were always intense and seeing Rolla athletes on the podium was a highlight.”
Another highlight was watching former RHS standout Chantae McMillan compete in the heptathlon at the 2012 London Olympics.
“Walking into the Olympic Stadium in London filled with over 80,000 people, seeing the Olympic flame, and then watching Chantae McMillan compete with the best athletes in the world was amazing,” Knapp said. “One of the thrills of a lifetime.”
Like most coaches, Knapp had a favorite. A favorite event, that is. The pole vault.
For years, Knapp hosted pole vaulting clinics at Rolla, and eventually saw 21 of his own vaulters earn All-State.
“I always enjoyed the challenge of the event,” Knapp said. “It was exciting and special. You use speed, strength, agility, courage, and co-ordination to do it. It was fun and thrilling to do the event, and to see how high you could go each time. Pole vaulters help each other at meets and at practices. It is kind of a unique athletic community and has a camaraderie shared among the vaulters.”
Knapp’s journey into coaching was similar to that of others. He was an athlete in his youth and was positively impacted by high school and college coaches. Once he graduated from college, he decided to return the favor, starting a lifelong journey of giving back.
“I always enjoyed lots of sports and being active,” he said. “I had many positive experiences in sports in junior high, high school and college with coaches that motivated me. I thought if I could help other people enjoy their sports with some positive experiences, that would be a good thing to do and a good career.”
Knapp is quick to give credit for his success to others, most notably his parents, his old coach Jim Dunlap, and his college coach Aldo Sebben (MSHOF 2017).
“I met many good coaches and people in this sport through the years,” Knapp said. “I got to work with lots of athletes that I enjoyed time with. They all made a difference.”
Despite all of his success and longevity, Knapp was surprised to be selected for induction into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.
“I was speechless, and completely surprised,” he said. “It is humbling to even be considered for something like this. It makes me reflect on and appreciate all the people who have helped me throughout my career. This recognition is shared with many other people. This is a very special honor.”