It’ll be a changing of the guard for East Alton-Wood River High athletics following the spring season.
But the new guy overseeing the sports program knows the routine. Kevin Gockel has done it previously.
Gockel, 46, will start his second stint as the Oilers’ AD come June. He will replace Adam Miller, the new director of athletics at neighboring Civic Memorial High. Miller officially begins his duties with the Eagles on July 1.
“I want to continue the changes that Adam did to better the program,” Gockel said. “My plan is to keep the ball rolling.”
No doubt, Gockel will be rocking and rolling, perhaps from dawn to dusk. The former EA-WR director of athletics — from 2007-09 — also will continue his job as an assistant principal. So there’s double duty awaiting him.
“I will be wearing quite a few hats,” he quipped.
And he’s hoping the Oilers cap their fall, winter and spring seasons with success. They are angling to be the best they can in the football-driven Prairie State Conference. EA-WR, which has an enrollment of 527, is the largest school in the league.
“We want to win more and I think a turnaround could come quickly,” Gockel said of the sports programs in general. “We always want to try and improve. We have good coaches in place, but we want to get our numbers up for athletes.”
More players, improved teams. It’s the way to go.
“The competition will make us better,” Gockel said.
Miller figures Gockel is the perfect guy for the job. He fits.
“He was AD here for two years and it’s kind of unique in that he was my mentor,” Miller said. “He turned things over to me and now I’m turning things over to him.”
He added, “Kevin will be very busy, but he knows a lot about athletics and how things work. He’s organized and good at building relationships. Kevin and I have a great relationship working together and I’m sure that we will continue to talk all the time.”
Gockel, a 1987 Staunton High graduate, played basketball, baseball and football for the Bulldogs. He went on to play baseball at Illinois State and then returned to Staunton. He served as the Bulldogs’ head basketball coach from 1995-2007 and his 2000-01 team went 22-9 and captured a regional title.
He joined EA-WR nine years ago when the Oilers belonged to the South Central Conference. They previously played in the Southwestern Conference and Mississippi Valley. In 1971, when the Oilers were part of the Valley, they had more than 1,400 students at the high school.
Thus, in 45 years, EA-WR’s enrollment has declined by 900 students. That’s why the Oilers are now in the Prairie State that includes local rivals Marquette Catholic, Bunker Hill, Mount Olive and Metro East Lutheran.
The SCC booted EA-WR out of its revamped league in 2012. The Oilers went the independent route for two years before going into Prairie State play.
“It (Prairie State) is different from the South Central because you have multiple teams in multiple conferences other than football,” Gockel said.
Dupo, which will join the Prairie State for football in 2017, is a good example. The Tigers will remain in the Cahokia Conference for all sports except football.
“We’re excited about it,” Dupo grid coach Brad Weier said, “because we are going from the smallest school in the Cahokia Conference to the third-biggest one in Prairie State.”
Marquette, which has 422 students, or 696.30 with its IHSA-applied multiplier, is the second largest behind EA-WR. Pawnee, Nokomis and Kincaid South Fork round out the eight-school football competition. Metro East Lutheran had a grid co-op with Madison in 2015 and will do that again this fall.
EA-WR is seeking to elevate football (9-63 the past 8 seasons), along with its 9 other boys’ sports and 11 girls’ activities. Success breeds success, as Gockel knows, and he’s striving to get that winning attitude flowing.
“We have the right coaches in place we are trying to get better and improve our facilities,” he said. “I think we are heading in the right direction.”
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