Yamhill-Carlton HS softball coach celebrates 26th season with the Tigers

John Kuehnel is celebrating his 26th season as the head coach of the softball team at Yamhill-Carlton High School.
Published: May. 11, 2023 at 6:36 AM PDT
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YAMHILL, Ore. (KPTV) - John Kuehnel is celebrating his 26th season as the head coach of the softball team at Yamhill-Carlton High School.

Kuehnel is a top 10 all-time winningest softball coach in Oregon state history.

“You can ask anybody, there is not a single person in this town that doesn’t know who John Kuehnel is,” said Briley Ingram, senior at Yamhill-Carlton High School. “He is the sweetest, most genuine coach I have ever met in my life.”

SEE ALSO: Ridgefield HS softball coach following in her late father’s footsteps

Kuehnel bleeds orange and black as a Yamhill-Carlton High School graduate with the class of 1976.

“I grew from junior high on up and played football and wrestled and played baseball. Loved baseball,” he said. “The coach I had was kind of like I am now. He just did whatever it took to get it done.”

Getting it done as a dad, first.

“I was working 60-hours a week and wasn’t able to come watch my kids play or do anything like that, so I decided, ‘well, I am going to make a little change.’ I took a huge cut in pay, but I decided to work for the school,” Kuehnel explained.

Custodian, bus driver, groundskeeper of his beloved diamond and maker of the 3A Pac-West softball powerhouse Tigers.

“I have grown up with them since we were six years old. We have gone through this whole program together and it’s been such a thrill,” Ingram said. “I love all of them to pieces and I think this year is definitely going to be one for the books, and this is going to be the hardest thing to leave after high school.”

There is no time like the present for the state runners up from last spring to have a little fun with it.

“He is so clumsy; he is so funny! I am sorry, John. You are so clumsy,” laughed senior Lexiss Antle. “It makes me laugh.”

Hearty laughter and tough love are what Kuehnel’s all about.

“He’s hard on us in the best way possible. When we drop a ball out in the field, he just tells us, ‘get it the next time. Next one’s yours. Catch the ball’ and that’s what we do,” said senior Alyse Hurley.

The 65-year-old cares for the Tigers like they are his own. His three daughters all came through the program: Cheryl in 1999, Cassandra in 2003, and Kaeli in 2008.

Kuehnel leads by example in the dirt and the realities of life.

“John has been one of the coaches that has quickly made me realize and mature into the young lady I am today. That everything that anybody says, anything that happens in your life, you have to be able to take it with a grain of salt and realize there is a whole lot of bigger world out there and there is a lot more going on,” said senior Kya Ellis.

Kuehnel’s middle school sweetheart and wife of 46 years, Carol, has always been at his side, and he’s there now when she needs it the most.

“My wife has Stage 5 kidney disease and that’s been pretty scary,” he said. “She’s on dialysis and she had a heart attack a year ago and I was on our [softball] spring break trip in California. I was driving the bus so I couldn’t just leave.”

SEE ALSO: Sunset High School players take the field to honor John Pelham

The Tigers’ program will need to put up with coach for a few more seasons, but might this be the spring of their first ever state championship?

“He’s done so much for us, so it’s the least we can do to repay him,” Ellis said. “And I think that this is something that we deserve, because we’ve worked hard but he definitely deserves because he has worked his butt off for 26 years and we’ve got to give it to him.”

The state championship comes up Friday, June 2, down in Eugene. The Tigers hope to be back in that final dance, then win the whole thing and bring it back to Yamhill-Carlton High School.

If you think you or someone you know deserves a high school spotlight, please reach out to Nick Krupke at nick.krupke@kptv.com.