It was easy to get to know Al Ihnat. Loquacious, ingratiating and intense, he could talk to anyone. And he always had a story for you. I first met Al when he was coaching junior high sports in Anderson in the 1960s. It wasn’t long before he moved up to the varsity level at Anderson High School, coaching both wrestling and volleyball.
Ihnat’s life came to an end Dec. 29 just short of his 80th birthday from complications of Parkinson’s disease.
A longtime wrestling buff, he made his mark coaching on the mat for the Indians. After his career was ended he was named to the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame.
But it was in girls volleyball I got to know him really well. All four of my daughters played briefly for AHS, with two of them, Rachel and Ruth, completing four years wearing Red and Green.
Before my daughters reached the high school level the Tribe was competitive, winning a North Central Conference title during Ihnat’s tenure as head coach. Unfortunately, the relatively young phenomenon of competitive high school volleyball in Indiana was catching up with the AHS program, and during Rachel’s and Ruth’s years victories were hard to come by. During that eight-year span the Tribe never was able to win a single sectional contest.
Coach I (as he was known) ingratiated himself to students, players and fans alike and made any number of lasting friendships. We would chat after varsity volleyball games, and he always managed to find some positive outlooks even if the team had been overwhelmed on the court.
In one junior varsity game, Rachel had not only been on a roll with her serve but scored 15 straight points, at that time tying the world’s record with a perfect 15-0 game. The other team (I believe it was Yorktown) hadn’t even been able to field about the first eight or nine serves. Al talked about that feat for a long time, even bringing it up at Bonnie’s and my 50th wedding anniversary reception years later.
Ihnat called it quits for volleyball after Ruth’s class graduated. He coached wrestling for several more years before retiring, also assisting in girls softball. But he then was talked into a few more years of coaching at the junior high level.
Ihnat lost his wife, Pat, 15 years ago. He subsequently remarried a longtime family friend, Tammy, whose first husband, Bob Knuckles, also had passed away. Bonnie and our daughter Sarah have cleaned their house in recent years.
His Parkinson’s eventually took much of his characteristic spirit. The last time I remember seeing him was at Texas Roadhouse one evening recently.
Al Ihnat came from a generation of teachers and coaches who expected much of their athletes both on and off the court. But if you learned to perform as expected, he was a friend for life.