Age just a number for coaches
NILES — The cadence in his voice is still there.
Larry Kempe totes a grayish walker with two tennis balls on the back ends to help the 66-year-old coach heal from back surgery in March. That’s just as a precaution on the field turf inside Bo Rein Stadium, to get out of the way of the football players moving about on the surface. Off the field, he has a cane. Again, it’s just for the coach’s protection. He’s hoping to be free of both implements in a couple of weeks, just relying in his own two feet.
“He’s attacking that like he attacks everything else,” Niles McKinley football coach Jim Parry said.
There was some dark storm clouds off to the southwest and rumbles of thunder though the air. It didn’t drown out Kempe, who was directing the Niles players during their warm-up drills.
You could see the intensity on the former Ursuline coach’s face. Not much has changed.
Kempe spent 33 years teaching at Niles McKinley High School, mentoring many young people on the finer points of economics and U.S. History.
He coached with Tony Napolet in the 1970s, Jack Pierson, Bill Leonard and Dave Pappada in the 1980s, along with Bill Bohren in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Kempe joked he’s been here for five decades and is only 47.
“I think I’m like a rash,” he said. “I’ll keep coming back to Niles, whether they need me or not. It’s great to be back here. These kids are great kids. They’re doing everything you’re asking them to do.
“I’ve got no complaints with them.”
Bohren, 85, who is on Niles’ staff with Kempe, knows that fiery temper won’t ever leave his friend and fellow coach.
“He’ll be bitching out of his coffin,” Bohren joked.
Parry brought Bohren on last year, when the former Mathews coach took over the program, to coach the quarterbacks. He has one returning in junior Zack Leonard, who improved steadily throughout the 2018 season.
“I was smart there because we have a really good quarterback,” said Bohren, who has had stops at Steubenville, LaBrae and Boardman, just to name a few. “Being around the Leonard kid is really nice.
“I knew Jimmy was going to get the program straightened around real well. He put discipline in the program, which you can see and enthusiasm.”
Bohren has that passion for the game himself, something Kempe noticed the long-time coach hasn’t lost.
“It’s good to be back with Bill,” Kempe said. “He hasn’t changed. He has great enthusiasm and passion for the game still at his age. That’s a plus.”
Larry’s son, Paul, followed his father from after he was released by Ursuline after the 2018 season. The younger Kempe is part of the Red Dragons’ offensive staff. Paul was a ball boy for Niles since he was 4, up until his father went to Ursuline as the defensive coordinator — a position he had for Bohren’s staff at Niles. Ursuline won three state championships with Kempe as defensive coordinator and had some great years with the Red Dragons. Paul was part of that success as a quarterback and punter at Ursuline about a decade ago.
Larry is on the defensive side of the ball again, under Red Dragons defensive coordinator Brian Ulrich and with Chris Marsco and Ryan Barrett.
Kempe, who said he’s very fortunate to have the reputation he has, said the defensive staff is leaning on one another for support this season.
“I think Niles kids have always been tough,” Kempe said. “You don’t like to say anything about the previous football programs. I think we have more of an emphasis defensively.”
Parry, a 1990 Niles graduate, said the pleasure has been all his since he’s been on staff with both of these former head coaches and even had Kempe as a teacher.
Parry think he has the best staff in the area, which goes beyond having Kempe and Bohren on the sidelines with him.
“First of all, they’re two people in my life who mean a lot to me,” Parry said. “They’ve been great friends and mentors to me. I’ll be honest with you, it’s a little awkward at times. Who am I to tell either one of those two guys what to do?
“Age doesn’t effect their ability to coach and they relate to kids. You could quickly see why they’re such good football coaches.”
Age, nor walkers, will quell the intensity of Kempe. Parry said his players saw Kempe firsthand during last summer’s 7-on-7 drill when he was with Ursuline.
“Yea, he’s got the walker,” Parry joked. “It’s only been thrown once that I know of out of anger. We’re all worried we’re going to get walker shrapnel when we’re not looking. I’m hoping to get it on video when it really does really go.”
In all seriousness, having this much football knowledge on one sideline is beneficial to not only the Red Dragon players, but staff as well.
“I’ll go back to where I was in school,” Parry said. “They’ll get to that point where we all get with coaches, they feel like they’re going to run though the wall for the guy.
“I don’t care how old they get, they’re going to continue to be themselves, which is No. 1. Kids are attracted to guys who are great coaches like that.”
Age is just a number, especially for Bohren and Kempe.