Wayne Valley, Indian Hills coach Joe Leicht knows what counts by Darren Cooper of The Record
Two schools, two sports, one love.
I always thought if you sought the word ‘Coach’ in the dictionary, a picture of Joe Leicht should accompany the definition.
Gruff. Cropped hair. Short-sleeve shirt and tie. Folded up piece of cardboard in pocket with the team strategies listed in less-than-neat all caps handwriting (always all caps).
Saturday afternoon, Leicht reached the 1,000 win threshold in his coaching career. No, it’s not all one sport, one county, one school, or even one gender. With Wayne Valley’s 77-59 win over Passaic Valley Leicht now has 533 wins on the hardwood to go along with 467 wins in softball.
I teased him after the game to add it up. After all, he is a recently retired math teacher at Indian Hills, who used to send me occasional emails with equations.
With apologies to Pascack Valley icon Jeff Jasper, the 1,000 club has it’s first member of the winter.
“I never coached against Jasper,” said Leicht, smiling. “But my daughters (Amy and Stacey) went to his high school camp years ago. I’ve known him for a very long time. It’s just incredible.”
During the winter, you could find Leicht coaching traditional, fundamental basketball. The Indians are not flashy. They are sound. They rebound. They hustle. They share. Against Passaic Valley, they shot lights out in the first half, then coasted home. They are 5-2 with both losses coming in overtime.
On the softball field, where I first got to know Leicht, his Indian Hills teams are always prepared. I tell people, don’t tell me public schools can’t compete against non-public schools….Joe Leicht’s teams do. It just takes a lot of work, surrounding yourself with good people, and instilling the values of family in your players.
And it was telling that with two minutes left in the basketball game, five Indian Hills softball players ducked under the stands to retrieve the balloons. It’s like 5 degrees outside, but a bunch of girls from Indian Hills made the trip to Wayne to see their softball coach win a basketball game.
“I didn’t see them! I really didn’t,” said Leicht. “I was concentrating on the game, then [assistant coach] Doug Scott, who has been with me 14 of the 15 years here said congratulations with 10 seconds to go. I didn’t think about it.”
I asked him how many more of these he has in him, and Leicht said he’ll coach “forever.” It keeps him young, his mind engaged, in touch with the next generation, but he does miss teaching.
“You miss the classroom and miss the kids, you miss walking in the hallways talking to teachers, saying hello and sharing a joke. The other stuff, which only a teacher knows about, has gotten too much.”
His favorite players of all time? His two daugters, Stacey and Amy, both honors graduates he points out.
His favorite fan? That would be his wife, Sue.
“She’s been with me all the way,” he said.
Leicht is 65 with two replaced knees that have added a spring in his step recently.
“I feel like a new man,” he said.
If he has any regrets, maybe it might be never becoming the head coach of a football program. He served as an assistant coach for 36 years off and on at Indian Hills. Why he never got a top job is beyond me. But it’s not too late. A program in need of some identity and discipline would be wise to consider him. After all, 65 — like 1,000 — is just a number.
I have a bunch of Joe Leicht stories (Darren White has more), a bunch are deep in our Varsity Aces archives.
I’ll always remember the prom photos with the softball bats in hand, throwing the potatoes in the sky (Ok, this one needs more explanation – for years Indian Hills would struggle in big/championship games and in 2010 Leicht told his team that he was tired of the small potatoes, like winning a league title, he wanted the “Big Potatoes” and we did a story with a picture of him tossing potatoes skyward….that year they won the league, county and state title).
There’s the running joke about the “Friends of Joe Leicht Tournament” never held, but always discussed (the punchline being you couldn’t find anybody to come).
Leicht would send in the most detailed preseason previews of any coach in North Jersey. He’d write a preview for his team, plus every other team in the league. I’d always joke we should just let him do the rankings.
Then there is the plastic box that sits on a metal folding chair above the Indian Hills softball field. It’s completely nondescript. I probably walked past it about 50 times before looking at what’s inside.
Well, nestled inside the box are game programs for the Braves softball team, but not just a team roster. It has year-by-year recaps. Want to know about the no-hitter thrown in 1993? It’s in there. All of the Braves who made All-County and All-State, it’s in there.
There’s a connection here, don’t you see? This type of attention to detail (Jasper, by the way, produces a similar type program for his basketball team) is what helps you be successful.
Leicht was going to enjoy Saturday night a hair more than a run-of-the-mill victory.
Sue was there, and that clearly meant a lot to him. My last Joe Leicht story is about how after big softball games, sometimes I’d have to wait in the dugout for him. He had to call Sue and tell her what happened. She would be too nervous to come.
Two sports, two schools, one love. Coaching sure, but Sue and his family first.
But 1,000 wins. Anyway you do the math, Joe Leicht always has his priorities in order.