HARPERS FERRY — Gene Klinge still competes.
Now 78, He plays in euchre tournaments in Lansing. He battles the walleye along the Mississippi River near his home.
“I’m living the good life, man,” he said in a phone conversation last week.
Still, 14 months after he was dismissed as girls’ basketball coach at Waukon High School, a void remains unfilled.
“You can’t do something for more than 50 years and not miss it when it’s all done,” he said. “I miss going to practice. I miss the kids. But it is what it is, and I guess you’ve just got to suck it up and get on with it.”
He took 16 teams to state, winning a championship in his first year at Waukon, in 2004.
But after a losing season in 2013-14 — only the third of his career — time was up.
“I’m still a little upset with the way (the Waukon administration) handled it,” Klinge said. “But the people that hired me 11 years earlier, those people weren’t around any more.”
On the other hand ... .
“I was getting up there in years. Maybe it was time somebody else did it,” he said. “If we were coming home from a game at Waverly, we’d get back to the school at midnight, then I’d have to drive another 20 minutes to get home.
“Maybe it was time for the old guy to get off the road.”
Klinge attended a few games last winter. Waukon went 7-15 under Andy Sires, Klinge’s former assistant.
“He did fine,” Klinge said. “I’m not sure I’d have done any better.”
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Klinge faced multiple health issues in the final years of his coaching tenure — triple-bypass surgery on his heart, prostate cancer, lymphoma, constant pain in his hips and back. He said he’s “doing OK” and looking forward to whatever’s next.
“I’m got a grandson in the eighth grade down near Des Moines. He’s going to be a darn good basketball player,” he said. “I’m close to the coach of the eighth-grade girls’ travel team (at Waukon). I’m looking forward to watching that group.”
Meanwhile, there are euchre games to play, walleye to catch.
The good life, man.
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