Family, friends remember late Huntley volleyball coach Larry Kahl

Larry Kahl, former Huntley girls volleyball coach
Larry Kahl, former Huntley girls volleyball coach

Of the thousands of things Heidi Kahl Van Beveren remembers about her father, one of the most vivid pictures was “The Look.”

Larry Kahl became a volleyball coaching legend, a Huntley icon. He was stern and demanding, but fair and highly successful.

“You didn’t want to disappoint him,” Heidi said. “That was the worst. He didn’t really yell, he just gave you the look. And that look, man, could pierce your soul. ‘Oh, I am so sorry!’ ”

Larry Kahl grew up in Huntley and came back to his hometown to teach and coach. He left an indelible legacy, most notably in volleyball where his Huntley teams were 432-150 over 15 seasons, with 12 Class A regional championships.

Kahl, 71, died at his home in Pendleton, South Carolina on Oct. 31 after suffering from nodular melanoma cancer. His wife Cindy, son Bryan, daughters Heidi and Heather, and their families were with him when he died.

Heather Kahl Holmes, herself a breast cancer survivor and the former head volleyball coach at Wake Forest, said her father’s cancer, which was first diagnosed in 2009, had been in remission after surgery. But its return was diagnosed in 2013 and had reached Stage 4.

Heather said her father took the news with his usual attitude.

“We cried a little bit that day, and he said, ‘This is the last day we’ll cry about this,’ ” Heather said. “He wanted laughter and happiness. He still worked almost 30 hours a week. He was always functioning. For me, it proved how tough this man was. He was the strongest person I knew.”

From the outpouring of stories on the Facebook page “I was coached by/coached with/taught with and taught by Larry Kahl,” created by Cindy, Kahl may have been the strongest person a lot of people knew. Kahl taught civics and social studies and coached most every sport that Huntley had at one time or another, although volleyball became what he was best know for, by far.

“The kids knew he was tough, but it came from a good place,” said Heidi, who lives near Atlanta, Georgia. “It wasn’t demeaning or to break you down. It came from a place to build you up to make you your best self, to dig deeper and find that spot where it’s really uncomfortable to go, physically or mentally.”

Heidi, a 1989 Huntley graduate, did not play for her father in high school, but played club volleyball for him at Sports Performance before heading to Clemson, starting a pipeline from Huntley to that school. Heather, who graduated in 1991, played for Kahl in his first season as Huntley’s coach.

Kahl’s teams were 432-150 in his 15 seasons, with 12 consecutive Class A regional championships. From 1994-97, Huntley finished fourth, second, third and fourth in the Class A State Tournament.

Heather followed Heidi to Clemson. Huntley graduates Jill Heavey and Jackie Dalleska also went to play for the Tigers. Larry Kahl had more than 20 girls move on to play volleyball on NCAA Division I scholarships.

One of those players was Jami Greve Murray, who played volleyball at Bradley University and now is married to Jacobs baseball coach Jamie Murray.

“The Kahls introduced me to volleyball,” Murray said. “I hung around with Heather in the sixth grade. [Larry] was knowledgeable about the game, more so than anyone in the Huntley area. He was passionate about the game. Compared to other junior high programs, we were doing more advanced things, similar to what the high schools teams were doing.”

Cindy recalled when Huntley wanted to start a volleyball program at the junior high school, around 1974 or 1975. When no one else would take it, Larry did.

“He got some books and read about it,” Cindy said. “Over the next 12 years or so, he went 164-4.”

Kahl was recruited to coach at Sports Performance, one of the nation’s elite clubs, and flourished there as well.

“Our kids played there and Rick Butler, the owner, asked if Larry would be interested in coaching,” Cindy said. “Rick’s an incredible coach and trains his coaches so well. Larry got a lot of coaching ideas from Rick.”

Former Huntley coach Jim Tichy’s teams had won four regionals in five seasons before Kahl took over. Kahl produced nine 30-win teams and six state qualifiers (eight went to the state tournaments at that time).

Kahl stepped down after the 2005 season. He, Cindy and Bryan moved to South Carolina to be closer to Heidi and Heather. Heidi had three children at that time, Heather was coaching at Wake Forest.

People around Pendleton didn’t take long to discover there was a volleyball guru in town, and Kahl began coaching lessons at a club and was hired as junior varsity coach at Wren High School in Piedmont. He didn’t want the head coaching responsibilities, so he worked as junior varsity coach, although the varsity coach was a young woman starting her career and she regarded him as a mentor.

On the side, Kahl got a job at Boscobel Golf and Country Club doing manual labor. At home, he took up landscaping. Heather visited her parents monthly the last two years, with her son Landon, who is 4. She could not believe it when she saw their yard.

“He was making their yard immaculate and beautiful, things never had in Huntley,” Heather said. “We were always on the go, so busy. He was one who couldn’t sit still.”

Right to the end. Kahl would undergo the taxing chemotherapy treatments, then head to the golf course for work. The week before he died, he worked 30 hours. Five days before he died, he went to the course, but it was raining and he was sent home.

Heidi has a daughter Colby (22) and twin sons Grant and Gavin (14). Gavin has taken to volleyball and achieved AAU All-American status. On the weekend Kahl died, the family found a bag full of old volleyball notebooks.

“My dad had such a wealth of knowledge of the game and of building a team and of conditioning,” Heidi said. “Gavin opened it up and said, “I can still learn from Grandpa.’ He started reading it, it was very, very cool.”

Honoring Larry Kahl

The Kahl family is traveling back to McHenry County this week for a celebration of former Huntley coach and teacher Larry Kahl’s life. Kahl, 71, died on Oct. 31 at his home in Pendleton, South Carolina. The visitation will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at Trinity Lutheran Church on N. Church St. in Huntley. There will be an 11 a.m. service and a celebration following at the Huntley American Legion Post 673.

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