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Koch reflects on journey with Golden Eagles

Louie Koch was the bus driver with the Aberdeen Central High School athletic teams for 26 years. Photo by John Davis taken 8/25/2021

He has seen more Aberdeen Central road games than any other person in school history.

From driving through snow storms to getting to know the coaches and players on a first-name basis, Louie Koch has a lot of memories from his time behind the wheel as the Golden Eagles bus driver.

Now 87, Koch is long removed from his 26-year stint as the chauffeur for the teams, but make no mistake his legend lives on.

As he walked through the Central commons area last week, multiple people recognized him and came over to wish him well.

Koch went through three buses and traveled hundreds of thousands of miles during his driving stint.

“I know the highways pretty well,” Koch said.

That is at least when he could see them.

One time on the way back from Terry Peak with the ski club, the bus was unable to continue.

“We run into this blizzard, got to Eagle Butte and I couldn’t hardly see anymore. It was deep,” Koch said. “They built a new motel there at that time on the east edge. I stopped on the highway and I said this is far as we’re going. If they’ve got room, this is where we’re going to stay.”

Koch went inside to ask where the driveway was and was told he was parked right in front of it.

“So I got in the bus, backed up a little bit, turned and drove as far as I could and that’s where it stopped,” Koch recalled. “Three days we spent there in Eagle Butte.”

Of course, Koch always did his best to provide safe travel for the squads. Only one time was he too tired to drive.

“That was coming back from Rapid City, too. I just couldn’t drive anymore. I pulled over. I said I have to sleep. I can’t stay awake,” Koch said. “I said in 10 minutes wake me up. Man, I sat down and I was out. They woke me up and it was 20 minutes later or something like that.”

Koch enjoyed the players and they liked him as well. He was often serenaded on the bus to and from games.

“The kids would sit in the back of the bus (and sing) ‘Louie Louie’ you know that song,” he said. “I used to hear that a lot. I didn’t mind. That was alright.”

While Koch has a friendly demeanor, he definitely had rules on his bus. Break those, and you had to deal with the consequences.

“I didn’t want seeds on the bus. Girls basketball came and always had seeds. I told them if you’re going to eat seeds, shell them first,” Koch said. “I got so upset and I pulled off to the side of the highway, and got up and reamed them out good. Then the coach got all over them. I never had that problem again.”

Safe to say a lot of interesting things happened on road trips through the years, including taking off and leaving an athlete behind.

“We were coming home and somebody asked where so and so was. I slowed down,” Koch said. It turned out the individual was back at the school 20 miles behind the bus. “So we had to turn around and go back and get him. I wasn’t too happy about that.”

Through the years Koch served as a counselor to the players and as a sounding board for the coaches.

He tried to stay positive when the players boarded the bus after a frustrating loss.

“I remember one time, a bunch of girls, this was at a tournament and they lost. I said, ‘Well you’re still number one to me. That’s all that matters to me. You’re number one with me.’ That helped cheer them up a little bit. You have to encourage them.”

Sometimes, encouragement was the last thing the Eagles needed. Like the time they broke Mitchell’s home basketball winning streak.

“We went down to Mitchell once and played down there. I think Mitchell had like 19 straight home wins or something and we beat them that night,” Koch said. “That was rowdy coming home that night.”

Koch got to know the coaches on a personal basis and enjoyed his conversations with them. One of his personal favorites was the late Vern Jark who always had a story or a joke to share.

“Vern Jark was a super nice guy,” Koch said. “I think he was the only coach probably that would stay awake from the time we left Rapid until we got to Aberdeen. He would sit there and talk to me. He was a story teller.”

Of all the places Koch traveled to watch games, his personal favorite venue is at Rapid City Stevens where the floor is dug into the ground.

“You walk in and the floor is way down there. That’s kind of neat,” Koch said. “I always liked to go there and sit there and watch a game.”

As far as his most memorable game, Koch recalled a football contest at Yankton.

“I remember that football game down in Yankton in the rain that time,” Koch said. “That’s when Josh Heupel was the quarterback. That was a game.”

Koch isn’t exactly sure how many contests he has witnessed in his lifetime. He only knows that for more than a quarter of a century he had a position that allowed him to get closer to the athletes and coaches than anyone else.

“I’m just glad I got a chance to do it. I got paid while I was doing it,” Koch said. “You can’t beat a deal like that now, can you?”

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