Baker cross-country and track coach Zach Kindler had introduced his new assistant Tim Byers to other Wildcats coaches on Monday at a group event, and afterward the families had dinner together.
Football coach Mike Grossner shook Kindler’s hand around 8 p.m. and said good night.
Tuesday morning, Grossner received a call from Baker athletic director Theresa Yetmar. Kindler, 35, had died of an apparent heart attack Monday night.
“Shocking, stunning,” said Grossner, who is also Baker’s associate athletic director. “He was a tremendous guy.”
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Grossner was in Kansas City on Tuesday to preview his team at the Heart of America Athletic Conference Media Day but found it difficult to concentrate.
“We sit here today with a heavy heart,” he said to reporters and other coaches and players in the conference who had gathered at the NAIA national office.
New league commissioner Lori Thomas opened the event with a moment of silence.
By noon, word of Kindler’s death had spread throughout the Baker and sports communities as condolences poured in to the university’s Facebook page. Kindler and his wife, Sara, had three children, and the oldest is 8.
Kindler oversaw the men’s and women’s cross-country teamsand the indoor and outdoor track programs. More than 100 athletes competed for him each school year. Baker’s undergraduate enrollment last year was 936.
And Kindler’s teams won, big.
In 2012-13, Baker won conference titles in five of the six cross-country/track championships. Overall, his teams won 17 team conference championships, and he was awarded the league coach of the year title 20 times.
Kindler, a native of Esbon, Kan., was cross-country coach at Kansas Wesleyan when Baker hired him in 2007. He was an All-American javelin thrower at Fort Hays State, where he started his coaching career as a graduate assistant.
Baker’s first cross-country meet is Sept. 6.
A prayer service is scheduled for 11 a.m. today at Osborne Chapel on campus. The public is welcome.
“We are absolutely devastated by the loss,” Yetmar said in a news release. “Zach was a great man, husband, father, coach and friend. We cannot say enough how much we will miss him.”
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