HULL, Iowa | The remarkable fact that in just 13 seasons of high school football, Hull Western Christian has already reached two state championship games, is proof enough of what Travis Kooima has done with the program.
And, when the Wolfpack slayed the giant, so to speak, dethroning six-time defending Class 1A state champion Iowa City Regina in this year’s title game, it cemented the choice of Kooima as The Sioux City Journal Football Coach of the Year.
Western outscored the mighty Regals – coached by former University of Iowa and New England Patriots tight end Marv Cook – 47-34 in the UNI-Dome last month, capping a 12-1 season with a state championship.
Western Christian may be more well known for its basketball and volleyball success, but Kooima, a Rock Valley High School and Northwestern College graduate, is the architect of the football program’s rapid ascent to the top of the mountain.
The 35-year-old Kooima has a 68-50 record in 11 seasons as head coach. His 2016 squad avenged a 35-28 loss to Regina in the 2015 1A championship game. Western Christian won 12 in a row after a season-opening loss to Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley, which claimed the Class 2A state title.
“I think when you’re a head coach of a successful program it is on your mind all the time and it’s definitely on Travis’s mind all the time,” said Western Christian athletic director Bill Harmsen. “He works hard at it and has developed a culture at Western that the guys really enjoy and enjoy playing for him. He’s done an excellent job of finding assistant coaches. Because football is so big he can turn things over to these guys and trust that they’re being done.
“I think he’d be the first to say that all the way down to our junior high program right now we have great guys in place. With him leading the charge and developing this program and getting them to where they are in such a hurry, that’s a huge credit to him.”
Harmsen can speak from the standpoint of not only heading up the athletic department, but Kooima was also one of his assistant coaches the last five seasons in girls basketball. The Wolfpack won three state titles in a row under Harmsen, who is now the head boys basketball coach.
“I don’t think the kids really needed a lot of convincing as far as football is concerned, they just needed some strong leadership,” Harmsen said. “We hired some great weight coaches over the last couple years, Western grads that have come back to help out. All of those guys have come back to work with Travis and set up great weight programs to get our guys to the point of where they’re at right now, just being able to compete physically with the best teams in the state of Iowa.”
Mark Fenchel started the football program and was the head coach for the first two seasons. Western hired Kooima shortly after he decided to leave a business career for education. Kooima is a high school business instructor, teaching accounting and computer classes.
Cory Brandt, Kooima’s high school football coach, isn’t surprised that he ended up as a successful coach.
“I can say this about Travis, he does an outstanding job with his teams,” Brandt said. “Western is always going to have athletes and he’s brought the football knowledge along with their athleticism to put them in the position they’re in right now. Guys before him got it started but Travis is the one that took it to the next level.
“You have to give him a lot of credit. They came from a place without football to a place where they’re winning a state championship and runner-up in consecutive years. Travis talked to a lot of people, took what he learned from college and different places and incorporated that into his scheme.”
Kooima played quarterback for Brandt. His senior season was 1999, which was the first season that Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley became the Nighthawks. They finished 7-2 and took a highly talented West Lyon squad to wire before losing in the playoffs.
He went on to enjoy a banner career as quarterback at Northwestern College.
Travis and his wife, Megan, are the parents of 1-year-old son Grayson and are expecting their second child in March.
Speaking of family, it was definitely a family affair for the Kooimas in football this fall. One of Travis’s younger brothers, Ethan, is an assistant coach and the other, Tyson, was the quarterback.
Immediately after Western beat Regina in the title game, Travis and Tyson exchanged an emotional embrace.
“The feel of winning a state championship and having two of your brothers as coaches is just an awesome feeling,” Tyson Kooima said.