HUDSON, Wis.-- John Dornfeld has always strived for balance in his life, but sometimes that’s tough when you’re a high school basketball coach.
Dornfeld, a school district guidance counselor for over 30 years, coached the Hudson boys’ basketball team from 1991-94 before stepping aside to spend more time with his young family. He returned to the program from 2002-2012 to serve as an assistant coach, first alongside Tim Scharfenberg and then with Jason Swavely, who played for Dornfeld when he was a student at Hudson.
After Swavely stepped down to focus on his young kids, Dornfeld returned as Raider head coach in 2017. Now that search for balance has led him to once again step away from a job he loves. And once again it revolves around family.
“My parents, who are in their 90s, live with us and have lived with us for the last three years,” Dornfeld said. “And they're just requiring a little bit more time and attention these days as they're struggling with health issues. So that's a big thing, just being able to be around the house more and be able to do more for them.”
The Raiders are coming off a season that saw them go 15-6 overall and finish 8-4 and in second place in the Big Rivers Conference. Hudson is 60-32 in the past four seasons under Dornfeld, including a Big Rivers Conference co-championship and berth in the sectional finals in 2019. Dornfeld said there are a lot of good things happening in Hudson, but felt now was the right time for him to step away in order to find balance.
“It wasn't necessarily part of any long range plan,” he said about his decision. “The season got done and we've had a good run here, and I don't see any reason why it's not going to keep going for a few years. But the hard part for me is always trying to maintain some kind of balance in my life when I'm coaching. It can become kind of all consuming, and then some aspects of my life don't get the attention that they need.”
Prior to coming to Hudson in 1991, Dornfeld served as an assistant coach at Mounds View, Minn, and was head coach at Monticello, Minn. for four years. During his first stint as Raider head coach, Swavely and Mike Herink were his team captains. He said one of the coolest things about returning in 2017 was that he got to coach Swavely and Herink’s sons.
“You know there was Alex and Carter (Herink) and Carter just graduated. And then Bennett Swavely) then we've got Sam, who's an eighth grader that's coming up. So that's been really awesome to see things kind of come full circle there. And then of course, with Jason, to be his coach in high school, be his assistant coach for a while and have him be my assistant for a few years-- that's been a really important thing to me and very meaningful to know Jason in so many different capacities.”
Dornfeld said one of the things he appreciates most about coaching at Hudson is the relationships he’s maintained with his players over the years.
“I still see kids, I call them kids but they're obviously adults now years later,” he said. “Guys in their 20s 30s 40s and even 50 now that I still have close contact with and see around town. And it's just such a great feeling to run into former players and see them now as successful adults.”
Dornfeld said he’s gained a lot of perspective about coaching as he’s gotten older, and said his search for balance has made him realize it’s about more than winning basketball games.
“I think the longer you do it, the more you realize it's about the relationships with the kids and helping them learn good life lessons along the way while doing something they love to do,” he said. “And I think that's one of the cool things as a coach. you get to work with kids in something that they enjoy and are really passionate about. And us as coaches enjoy it and are passionate about it. So you're really working together on this thing and it's just a really cool experience.”
Dornfeld said he’s been lucky to coach in Hudson as long as he has, and while his decision to step down was a tough one, he said he’s excited about the future of Raider basketball.
“I have super mixed feelings because I'm so optimistic about these next few years,” he said. “I'm excited to watch these players develop because we’ve got some good players coming up through the program. So yeah, even though I think it was the right decision, and it's the right time, it was a tough decision for me for sure.”