WARREN, NJ - When Jim Kanach retired at the end of June, Watchung Hills Regional High School lost two people: one, a talented and ingenious English teacher, the other, an award-winning coach with over 700 wins to his credit.
Kanach, who joined Watchung Hills’ English Department in 1980 as a Dual Certified Teacher in English and reading and later became certified in social studies, took on not only the traditional departmental courses at every grade level in his area, but also such intriguing subjects as science fiction and fantasy. He also taught world cultures in the history department. Once in a while, he’d even accompany a history department study trip to Europe.
His abilities and contributions were formally recognized in 2006 when he was named Watchung Hills’ Teacher of the Year. And, more recently, this past year he had the honor of being a finalist (in a field of over 70) in a Princeton University-sponsored competition entitled "The Outstanding Teaching Award." He missed the $5,000 prize, but treasures the plaque which acknowledges his high standing.
Beyond the classroom, Kanach is a name that has gained a solid reputation in the area of coaching. His is a record that will be hard to match, for he is one of the “winningest” coaches in the school’s history, and, likely, area-wide as well. He has coached more than 1300 games, with a record of over 700 wins— in sports as diverse as tennis, soccer, basketball, softball, golf, and bowling.
His efforts led to his being named, in 1986, Soccer Coach of the Year and, in 1988, to Softball Coach of the Year. In 1988, he was named the first Coach of the Year in both sports Altogether, he was Coach of the Year six times, gaining six championships in various sports. Some have suggested that makes him a “Renaissance man” in the field of high school sports coaching. Some of his fondest memories are those related to coaching bowling (ten years), a sport at which many special needs students could excel. “It was a really rewarding coaching experience,” he said.
Kanach’s involvement with things athletic also encompassed some of the more basic, physical, essentials: In 1986 and ’87, he became part of a trio (including then Phys Ed/Health chairperson Mario Diez and the late Watchung mayor, Jerry Mobus) who were instrumental in rebuilding the dugouts on the athletic field for boys’ and girls’ baseball with the support of the community —“still being used,” Kanach says with pride.
In retirement, Kanach will work on his “honey-do” list at home, visit New Jersey sites he’s never seen, and hopes he’ll even do some coaching/refereeing. “One door closes, another opens,” he muses.
Many of Kanach’s students and the athletes he coached still keep in touch with him, thanks to the wonders of blogging and e-mail, and it is then that he realizes how many years have passed, how many lives have been intertwined with his, in the classroom, on the field. He recalls: “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile. That’s what teaching is all about,” and adds: “It was so great at Watchung Hills.”