The passing of Roxana history teacher and former football coach Jeff Welker on Jan. 19 has left many in the area devastated.
Welker, 65, spent 37 ½ years as a history teacher in the Roxana School District. He was even an assistant football coach at Roxana before that.
He was an assistant alongside Bill Smith under Charlie Raich when the Shells took second in Class 4A in 1987.
As a head coach Welker’s resumé wasn’t quite as glowing. In one year at Roxana in 2004 he was 0-9. He helped start the Bunker Hill program as the first head coach in 1999, going 1-8. He went 0-1 in 2000 at Bunker Hill, playing primarily a JV schedule.
Only one win as a varsity head coach, but if there is ever someone who transcended wins and losses it’s Jeff Welker.
My experiences with him go deeper than a teacher or a coach. I’ve always known him as one of my dad’s best friends.
They met in 1967 before the Roxana gridiron or classroom came into the picture. Their connection was cars.
My dad and Welker had a 1956 Ford Victoria they raced together at Alton Dragway, now the site of Storyland Mobile Homes Park along Fosterburg Road in Alton.
He was even an usher in my parents’ wedding. The past week has been hard on my family.
I had no idea how deep Welker’s influence on the Greater Alton area reached until I became a sportswriter, though.
When dad told him I had been hired by the AdVantage News in August he immediately acknowledged he coached John Simmons, owner of the paper, and to tell him hello.
I quickly learned he also coached Vice President Eric McRoy, who informed me he still does the weight training regimen he learned during his playing days under Welker.
That was just the start. There is a laundry list of former Roxana players who went on to coach and/or teach.
At Roxana currently there are boys’ basketball coach Mark Briggs, wrestling coach Rob Milazzo and baseball coach Scott Harper. Harper is also the former athletics director and baseball coach at Alton and still works in the district there.
Alton baseball coach Todd Haug and wrestling coach Eric Roberson are products of the Shells, as is O’Fallon wrestling coach Glen Exton. East Alton-Wood River AD Adam Miller didn’t play football at Roxana, but came through as a basketball player and was inspired by Welker.
Gary Carter is head football coach at Murphysboro and formerly at EA-WR and Jersey and is a Roxana grad. Scott Hamilton at Tolono Unity has won more than 200 games on the gridiron and finished second in the state playoffs four times in his 21 years there.
There are also a slew of assistants and former coaches sprinkled throughout Illinois and the St. Louis metropolitan area, like: Nathan Miles, Derek Hacke, Kyle Hacke, Chris Skinner, Scott Smith, Dan Durbin, David Gan, Daryl Angelton and Jon Lawrence, among others.
That’s not to mention countless others who entered the military or business world that he affected.
Bill Smith said his summer vacations revolved around his history classes and he even took students along with him. He was the consummate teacher.
Exton quipped the thing he remembered most was when he came in contact with Welker — he always had words of encouragement. He was never negative.
The man who married his wife, Cindy, on Charlie Raich Field several years ago was memorialized on Jan. 23 at Larry Milazzo Gymnasium with approximately 2,500 people in attendance. His funeral services followed at RHS on Jan. 24 and his interment was at Rose Lawn Memory Gardens in Bethalto.
His loss leaves a void on the area, there’s no doubt. Let’s remember Jeff Welker as a man that left a trail of virtues along the way that meant much more than wins and losses. He was a teacher, a coach, a friend.
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