The Reeths-Puffer soccer program enjoyed the benefits of coach Keith Knapp being able to devote so much time to the Rockets’ success, as his first three kids didn’t play a sport that conflicted with the fall boys’ season.
Knapp’s youngest child, daughter Ellie, is a runner, though. Her impending first varsity cross-country season this fall, and Knapp’s desire to support her, made for a natural time for him to step away from coaching. The Rockets’ coach resigned following last season’s third district championship in four seasons, capping a nine-season tenure running the Rockets’ varsity.
“It was a family decision,” Knapp said. “I started coaching in 1995, so 24 years of coaching, and we thought this was a great reason to take a break and cheer (Ellie) from the sidelines.”
Ellie, who was a top runner for the Rockets’ middle school team last fall and posted times comparable to those of some of the current R-P stars during her career, will be the last Knapp in the nest this fall. Keith’s third child, daughter Carrie, joins her older brothers in the military this fall. Carrie is enlisting in the U.S. Navy, and coach Knapp said her boot camp will conclude in October, right in the heat of postseason boys soccer action.
Knapp said the success the Rockets have had late in his tenure — the three district titles R-P has won since 2016 represent all three in the school’s history — made the decision to step away easier, although he conceded there’s always a part of a coach that wants to see if the program can take the next step and win a regional game. The Rockets fell in the regional semifinals after each of their three district titles, coming closest this last fall, when they dropped a 1-0 decision to Byron Center.
“It makes it a little bit easier to step away from the game, having done something the program hasn’t done up to that point,” Knapp said. “It made it a little bit easier. At the same time, I feel like we’re making progress and getting the program to the point where we can be competitive into October. Winning that first regional game would be kind of cool.
“Stepping away from the game for the sake of family is an easy thing to do. In a sense, there’s unfinished business, but we’ve made some good progress.”
The Rockets' next coach, athletic director Tony Schmitt said, will be Kody Harrell, who starred at Orchard View and later at Muskegon Community College. Schmitt added that Knapp was "all in" for the Rockets' program during his tenure, providing various off-season opportunities for his players.
"He provided year-round opportunities for development of our kids, including open gyms in the winter and scrimmages and open practices in the summer," Schmitt said. "He also ran a camp in the summer for the youth in our community."
Knapp, who is a teacher at R-P and whose wife Sarah is about to become a teacher as well, said the biggest thing he will miss about his time on the field is the relationships with his players.
“Being a teacher at Reeths-Puffer, I still see a lot of the kids around some, but we’re such a big school, it’s easy for (me to miss) them outside soccer practice,” Knapp said. “So it’s the relationships with the kids, and the relationships with the youth coaches. I invested a lot of time with them to help the younger players coming through.”