He taught teens the skills and love of

Soccer

Don Arnold didn’t keep track of his record, but he amassed well more than 600 victories in coaching the boys’ and girls’ soccer teams at Grafton High School for 28 seasons each. Photo by Sam Arendt
By 
MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press staff

After more than 50 seasons of coaching, Don Arnold has retired from Grafton High School’s soccer programs, but the mark he made will last for generations.

Arnold coached the Black Hawk boys’ and girls’ teams for 28 seasons each and became the face of Grafton soccer.

“I feel like I’m blessed to be part of so many players’ development,” he said. “It’s made my life better being the Grafton Black Hawks’ coach.”

He retired from the boys’ program after the 2019 season, and 2021 was his final season as the girls’ head coach. Arnold plans to spend more time with his wife Tina and three grown daughters, but he isn’t leaving the sport. He is still involved with U10 and U14 academy teams.

Arnold led the Hawks to several state tournament appearances, including winning the 1997 girls’ Division 2 championship, but Arnold’s passion went beyond the pitch.

“As much as Don loved soccer, he loved the people he coached and coached with more. Those types of relationships not only translated to success on the field and individual growth, but distinguished him from other coaches,” 2019 grad

Hailey Block, Grafton’s all-time leading scorer for girls and a member of the Marquette University soccer team, said.

“I learned from him that soccer goes beyond the wins and spans into the moments off the field, on the bus, during team dinners and before games that will stick with me. That remains true, and those are the moments I continue to cherish.”

Those memories stick with Arnold as well, who only planned on coaching a short time.

In 1991, Arnold was playing with the Milwaukee Bavarian Soccer Club when the late Jimmy Banks, a Custer High School teammate and member of the Milwaukee Wave who had been doing some coaching, connected him with U17 Team Ozaukee. Team manager Chuck Heiser had two sons in the program and encouraged Arnold, then 26, to apply for the Grafton High job.

Arnold took the position under then Athletic Director David Walker thinking he would coach for a year or two.

After living in Cedarburg for one year, he moved to Grafton and his future was decided.

“It was very welcoming, very supportive,” Arnold said of the families and community.

“It’s not just where my house was. It was where my home was. I never wanted to leave Grafton. It became us. It became my family.”

A couple of years after coaching the boys, the girls’ job opened up.

“I thought well, I’m enjoying the boys. Let’s take over the girls,” he said.

Arnold balanced his coaching schedule with his career. He was on third shift for 20 years, getting home from work at 7 a.m. and getting up for practice at 2 p.m. He also played soccer into his 30s and “would come up and get my share of goals” as a defensive midfielder with the Bavarian Club.

“We did things to make it work because I loved coaching so much,” he said.

Then he switched to first shift at Rytec Corp. in Jackson, where he works as a manufacturing supervisor.

He also got involved in the youth program.

“I thought it was very important as a high school coach to be involved with the youth and the community. You start to build that excitement. ‘Someday you’re going to be a Grafton Black Hawk player,’” he would tell the youngsters.

“It was great seeing kids growing up through the game and develop into not only great players, but great kids.”

Arnold’s love of soccer developed when he was young. He grew up near 70th and Florist streets in Milwaukee and got involved in the sport through one of his neighbors, Jon Szczepanski, a future Milwaukee Wave and Rampage player, who took him to practice with the Bavarians. Arnold played for the late legendary coach Richard Williams at Custer High.

“We had great teams back in the day. The city teams were really strong,” Arnold said.

His love of soccer grew the more he played and coached.

“That team concept of it — you’ve got 11 players out there trying to move the ball into scoring positions. It’s a great game when you see it and understand how it’s being played,” Arnold said.

He has seen interest in the world’s most popular sport grow across the area in the last few decades.

“The players have more opportunities — the academies and clubs have really improved the high school game,” Arnold said.

“The kids understand the game; they know how to play. They’ve got the skills behind them and you’re managing them.”

Soccer has changed in other ways as well.

“The way the game is played sometimes has changed. It’s very technical,” Arnold said.

His coaching philosophy shifted to match his personnel.

“You take the ability and skill and what you have in front of you, and you build off of that,” Arnold said.

“My thought was if you try to change them to what you absolutely wanted, the season would be over for high school by the time you got that done. Let’s see what we have, let’s work hard building a team. We’ve had a lot of success in Grafton in that team aspect of things.”

It didn’t come easy. Grafton was one of the smallest schools in the North Shore Conference, which has had nationally ranked teams and state title winners.

“I loved being in the North Shore. Every night the lights came on you knew you were going to be in a tough game,” Arnold said.

“You didn’t win conference championships but you definitely developed the players.”

Exceeding expectations in the postseason was always fun.

“So many you look back on — the teams that weren’t supposed to do anything and the next thing you know they were in the state tournament,” he said.

Under Arnold, eight girls’ teams and seven boys’ advanced to state.

Arnold had a longtime partner in his passion. Assistant coach James Johnson coached 19 years with the girls and 18 with the boys, retiring from both the same time as Arnold. The two are lifelong friends.

“He’s a great guy. We kind of have a similar sense of humor. We both have a fire and a passion about how we do things and mostly the impact on the kids,” Johnson said.

“I enjoyed every minute of it with him,” Arnold said.

A couple of Arnold’s family members became part of the program. He coached his oldest two daughters, Alyssa, 27, and Taylor, 25. Paige, 21, loved gymnastics instead.

“After coaching the players on the field, you’re still their dad. After the games we were able to distance that,” Arnold said.

Coaching boys and girls both “had their huge positives,” and Arnold noticed at least one difference.

“The boys can get a little rambunctious. The girls, when you’re talking to them, are a little more focused. They listen to you. The boys have to see it (work),” he said.

But one thing was the same.

“You had to work hard. You had to do things the right way on and off the field,” Arnold said.

Athletic Director Kevin Moore noticed that when he came to Grafton in 2016. He was aware the school had a quality soccer program and quickly got to know Arnold.

“I found that Don was a coach of great knowledge, but even more that he had the kids’ respect and he worked with the kids incredibly well,” Moore said, adding it was obvious Arnold had deep respect from fellow coaches at seeding meetings.

“He ran two great programs for a lot of years, being versatile and just absolutely doing it for the right reasons. That speaks volumes,” Moore said.

After coaching for so long, it was hard for Arnold to step down, but he remains the Hawks’ No. 1 fan.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would be that big a part of my life,” he said, adding he may sneak over to the field when he sees the lights on.  “Grafton will always have me cheering them on.”

Arnold’s impact continues as he coaches the younger players.

“Any accolades that guy gets he deserves. Grafton had something special with him and still does with the youth programs,” Johnson said.

 

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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