Guy Ward Kochel Jr. (1941–2019)
Guy Kochel became a renowned track-and-field coach at Arkansas State University (ASU) in Jonesboro (Craighead County). His career included building a successful college-level track program, guiding Olympic medalists, working in financial services, and serving as a church pastor.
Guy Ward Kochel Jr. was born on May 16, 1941, in Reydell, an unincorporated farm community in Jefferson County. His parents, Pauline Kochel and Guy Ward Kochel Sr., owned a store, with his father also farming and serving as postmaster. An only child, Kochel was attracted to athletics from an early age. He played whatever sport was in season, including baseball and track, but later said his first love was baseball.
He attended high school in DeWitt (Arkansas County), which was more than twenty miles from his home. In addition to his involvement with sports at DeWitt, he played Little League and Babe Ruth baseball in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), over thirty miles from home. Transportation was a challenge. Still, he made it to all his games and practices, catching rides with salesmen or on bread trucks and with other vendors who came to his parents’ store. He also credited the support he received from his parents, who attended his baseball and football games.
Kochel graduated from high school in 1959. He attended what is now the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) in Conway (Faulkner County). In addition to working toward his major in physical education, he played baseball and ran track. After graduating from UCA in 1963, he earned a master’s degree in physical education at what is now Henderson State University (HSU) in Arkadelphia (Clark County) in 1967. In 1964, he married Sue Flake, whom he had met in college.
Kochel began his career at Stuttgart High School, coaching there from 1963 through 1967. He coached at Pine Bluff High School from 1967 to 1972 before taking the position as head track-and-field coach at ASU in 1972. He served in that role at ASU until 1989.
It was during his seventeen years at ASU that Kochel reached what many consider the pinnacle of the profession as head track coach: guiding world-record-holder Earl Bell, a five-time National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) champion in pole vault and a two-time Olympian with a bronze medal from the 1984 Olympic Games. Kochel also coached Al Joyner, gold medalist in the triple jump at the 1984 Olympics. Joyner said he considered himself part of the Kochel family.
In 1976 and 1977, Kochel coached at ASU with Thomas Hill, who won the bronze medal in the hurdle at the 1972 Olympic Games. In 2006, Hill joined Bell, Joyner, and Mike Beebe in Jonesboro at a “roast and toast” of Kochel. At that event, Beebe credited Kochel with being responsible for the construction of a new track-and-field facility at ASU. During his time at ASU, he piloted teams to ten conference championships, including nine track and field titles and one cross country title. Kochel’s teams finished in the NCAA’s “Top 20” eight times and “Top 30” eleven times. He coached thirty-two All-America selections and seven Olympians as well.
Kochel served as pole vault and high-jump chairman for the USA Olympic team from 1985 to 1988, and was assistant coach of the USA team for the Goodwill Games in Moscow, Russia, in 1986. He also served as the head coach for the United States team in the Junior World Championships in Canada in 1988. He was inducted into the Arkansas Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1985, was selected for the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2003, and was named to the UCA Hall of Fame in 2005.
After his successful track-and-field career at ASU, Kochel entered the financial services field as vice president of Merrill Lynch in Jonesboro. In 2005, he was asked to deliver a talk at the Huntington Mission Church, an outreach of Jonesboro’s First Baptist Church. He then became the church’s permanent pastor.
Kochel died on August 6, 2019.
For additional information:
Kochel, Guy. Practical Coaching Techniques for the Pole Vault. Ames, IA: Championship Books, 1980.
Garland County Historical Society
Last Updated: 10/05/2020