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CEDAR RAPIDS — Most administrators. and a significant number of coaches, are hesitant to hire out-of-district coaches to guide their high school programs.
But in the case of David Ernst, everything fell into place three decades ago.
“Ernie” — as he is better known in Kennedy coaching circles — has never worked as a teacher or full-time employee at a school, but is in his 30th season on the sidelines for the Cougars.
Ernst has a phenomenal history as a young person at Kennedy. He attended school from 1983 to ’86 and was a student-athlete, focusing on football. In the fall of 1988, he began a long career as an assistant coach, working under such coaches as Don Knock, Tim Lewis and current head coach Brian White.
In 2013, he was selected by the Iowa Football Coaches Association as Class 4A Assistant Coach of the Year, one of only two coaches awarded the honor that season. A noteworthy achievement accomplished only by Ernst was he coached in every playoff game Kennedy has qualified for and has witnessed nearly 300 games during his years with the program.
In the 29 years of experiences, he has been a part of 67 all-Metro football selections, 83 all-Mississippi Valley Conference choices, five all-district players since the inception of district football at the 4A level, and has worked with nine all-staters.
An early standout, Greg Swartzendruber, in the fall of 1991, said Ernst took what he called a “Diaper Crew” with almost no starting varsity experience, and molded them into a strength of the team.
“Two of the four crew members were named to the all-state team in 1992 and Aaron Woods was first-team and I was honorable mention,” Swartzendruber said.
Several players remember him giving his time, making athletes better players and better young men. They consider him a football institution in the Kennedy program.
Rose Elvidge, a physical education teacher and Hall of Fame coach at Kennedy, saw tremendous characteristics in Ernst early in his lifetime.
“David was a fantastic student and athlete,” she said. “He has been so devoted to Kennedy as a student-athlete and adult. It was easy for him to come back to JFK. He really supports the school and all activities. He is the best for Kennedy.”
Chad Hartke, an all-around athletic standout for Kennedy, also saw the value of associating with Ernst on and off the field.
“He was positive (even when he got mad) and expected the best out of us at all times on and off the football field,” Hartke said. “I am very grateful to have had a great group of coaches during my high school experience at JFK and coach Ernst was certainly one of them.”
Ernst, reflecting on the past, said “while the wins and losses will be forgotten, the relationships with players will last a lifetime.”