In 1960, a recent college grad was hired as a football coach at Excelsior Springs High School. Little did the community know that Vic Bonuchi would make quite an impact for the next several decades.
And not simply because his teams won. Instead, he molded teens into young adults who could find success beyond high school.
“I can’t tell you the number of evenings we had a knock at the door and it was a kid (sometimes not even an athlete of dad’s) needing his guidance, figuring out a school or family problem,” said Viki Peronett, his daughter. “Sometimes it was a parent that was there asking for help with their kid. They all knew dad’s athletes held him in the highest esteem.”
Bonuchi certainly built winning teams, especially in football, wrestling and baseball, and that’s why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted him with the Class of 2023.
In football, his teams were 137-44-7 as he enjoyed two stints as the Tigers’ head coach. He began his career in 1960 and stayed at Excelsior Springs until 1973. His teams from 1963 to 1968 enjoyed a 43-0-2 record. He later returned in 1989, and the 1994 and 1996 teams won state championships.
In wrestling, he started the high school’s program and helped launch others in northwest Missouri. He coached the 1974 and 1975 teams to state championships.
Later, Bonuchi agreed to coach the baseball program and guided the 1995, 1996 and 1999 teams to the Final Four.
Best of all, Bonuchi did not cut players, as he believed their participation gave them a purpose.
“He taught God, family, school, sports and there was no alternative. That was rule No. 1, no exceptions,” said Eddie, his son. “He truly genuinely cared about the kids. So many say he got kids to play above what they were capable of because of their respect for him. Attention to detail. If you’re 15 minutes early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. Don’t make excuses. Practice until you get it right.”
Bonuchi was a three-sport athlete at Ritenour High School in St. Louis, and played football and wrestled at William Jewell College, just northeast of Kansas City.
When Excelsior Springs sought a football coach in 1960, William Jewell football coach Norris Patterson (MSHOF 2006) gave him a solid recommendation.
His preparation included hours of studying game films, while his wife prepared weekly homemade treats for players and assistants.
“I asked him why he watched so much film. He said if a team beats them because they are bigger, stronger and faster, he can accept that,” Eddie said. “But he will never let one of his teams get beat because he didn’t have them prepared.”
Strong defense and a controlled running game defined his football teams.
The 1963-1968 teams carried more than 100 players every year, and home game attendance was in the thousands.
The 1994 team was undersized but still reeled off an amazing run. The 1996 team had a ton of size and beat Liberty 48-13 weeks before Liberty lost to Rockhurst 6-0 in the large class state playoffs.
“He made (players) instrumental in team decisions in every way, teaching them life skills such as being prepared, analyzing problems and finding solutions,” Viki said. “He taught cooperative skills before they were a thing in education. He made every player feel like they were a vital part of the team even if they were not first string.”
Bonuchi, who was William Jewell’s defensive coordinator between Excelsior Springs coaching stints, has been inducted into several halls of fame: Missouri High School Football Coaches Association, Missouri High School Wrestling Coaches Association, the Greater Kansas City Football Coaches Association and Excelsior Springs High School Athletics. He also was among the inaugural class of the Missouri Chapter of the National Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame.
He also is a hall of famer of many former players.
“He would always head to the school an hour early every morning,” Eddie said. “I asked him why. He said because the kids who had bad home lives, or the kids with troubled lives in general would always arrive to school early because they wanted to get away from their problems, or they didn’t have anywhere else to go. So he would arrive early every day so he could be there to talk with any kids he thought might be struggling.”
Coach Bonuchi’s legacy lives on in the players he coached and in the many lives he positively impacted