Hall of Fame swim coach Jack Steck died on Friday morning of natural causes. He was 80 years old.
Steck is a member of the halls of fame at both Drury and Missouri State University, the two programs that he helped build in a 40-plus year coaching career. In 2014, he was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.
Steck began his collegiate coaching career at Drury University in 1968, turning a rather rudimentary program into an NAIA National Championship team in 1981 and 1982. He built the program that would eventually move to the NCAA’s Division II and become one of the most dominant college swimming programs we’ve ever seen.
A year after he won his second NAIA title with the Panthers, he took over as the head coach at Missouri State (then known as Southwest Missouri State University). He would coach the men’s team there for 29 years and the women’s team, which he started in 1998, for 14 years. His teams combined to win 19 conference championships and he amassed a combined dual meet record of 486-219-1. He was named a conference coach of the year 16. times at Missouri State.
He retired from Missouri State in 2012.
Steck amassed a long coaching tree, including Shawn “The Screaming Viking” Klosterman, who swam for Steck at Missouri State and remained in the Springfield area as a high school and club coach.
Klosterman shared thoughts about Steck’s impact when Steck retired from officiating in 2019, recounting both Steck’s impact on himself and swimming in general in southwestern Missouri.
“Jack recruited me off a fishing boat in Alaska in 1992. I came down here and swam my four years, and I have to say that in high school, my father passed away, and so coming to swim for Jack, I not only got a father figure out of the deal, we also did not have the kind of money that going to college ever even came up in my house. I would not have a college education if this guy didn’t give me a chance. And a chance that I might not have even deserved at the time, he gave it to me anyway.
I’ve ended up in a coaching career after my time swimming with this guy, and I look around this room, and I see a lot of people who either swam for Jack, or your parents swam for Jack, or some of you maybe even your grandparents swam for Jack, because he’s been doing it for that long.
He’s touched a lot of lives. Mine very profoundly. It is amazing that he has stayed connected to the sport in so many ways, and also that so many of us who he has touched have stayed connected to this sport. If you’re here, it’s because you have got a kid swimming, or you are coaching, or you are officiating, and you love this sport. This sport, if you look around, especially at this meet as a perfect example, has grown in this area. I started coaching 20 years ago, and this meet has probably doubled with the number of teams and the size of those teams has probably also doubled. And I think that is directly attributable to the seeds that this man has been planting for decades.”
A few years earlier, when Steck was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Klosterman reflected further:
“Jack had a gift for finding kids who hadn’t done much out of high school and building a successful team from them.” Klosterman said. “With limited resources he worked wonders.”
“The underdog mentality he preached not only served us well in taking on big teams in a duel, but also as we take on the challenges out there in our adult lives long after we have hung up our suits. Proud to be one of Jack’s Bears.”
Other coaches who were former Steck swimmers include Northwestern assistant Ignacio Gayo, Brian Reynolds at Drury, Greg Temple at William Jewell, Canaan Campbell at Lindenwood, and Florida International University head coach Randy Horner, who both swam for Steck and was an assistant coach for him from 1998 through 2005.
Horner also reflected upon Steck on Friday after learning of his passing, and echoed Klosterman’s comments about Steck taking a chance on him.
“Steck, known to all his athletes as “Coach” was not only a great coach but a great human. His fierce competitive spirit on deck as seen by his competitors was balanced by his care and love for his athletes.
He is responsible for my access to college swimming as an athlete and ultimately a coach. He took a chance on many swimmers like me and made a positive difference in our lives. Coach will be missed dearly, but his stories, sets, and love for swimming and his swimmers and divers will live on with all of us coaching today.”