While attending Northwest Missouri State University, student Tom Kruse was assigned to write about what he wanted to do in 10 years. “I stated that I wanted to be back at my high school as the head football coach,” he said.
And that’s what happened.
Kruse, a 1986 Ray-Pec High School graduate, returned to the district in 2000 as a health/physical education teacher and head football coach. “I have been so blessed to be able to come back home and raise my family here and make a small impact on a lot of students’ lives. Most impacted me more than I did them!”
He came to Ray-Pec in 2000 as a physical education/health teacher and was named the head football coach. Two years later, he became the Activities Director. At the time, Ray-Pec High School had just under 1,000 students and was competing in Class 4.
Last month, after completing his 20th season as head football coach, Tom Kruse announced his plans to retire at the end of the 2019-2020 school year. This is his 20th year in the Ray-Pec District and his 18th year as Activities Director.
During his 20 seasons as a head football coach, Kruse amassed a record of 147-90 and won three Class 5 state football championships. During that time, he was named Coach of the Week 16 times and was honored three times as Coach of the Year.
On Dec. 14, Kruse learned he has been selected to be inducted into the Missouri Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in December 2020. In addition, the Kansas City Chiefs plan to honor Kruse at the home play-off game in January with the Lamar Hunt Legacy Seat.
“I have NO idea how this happened,” he said, “but it is really cool!”
Kruse grew up in Raymore and attended Raymore Elementary School. While at Ray-Pec High School. He played on the school’s first state championship team as a catcher in 1985. He played quarterback at Ray-Pec and then at Northwest Missouri State.
His teaching and coaching career began in Harrisonville, where he was a health teacher, while also serving as assistant football coach, head baseball coach, and head girls basketball coach. After 5 years in Harrisonville, he went to the Park Hill School District for 3 years, also teaching health and serving as assistant football coach, girls basketball coach, and track coach. He spent one year at Park Hill High School and two years at Park Hill South when it first opened. He then joined Ray-Pec in 2000.
Kruse has many unforgettable memories at Ray-Pec.
“Obviously, winning the first-ever state championship at RPHS in baseball in 1985 is a great memory as a student,” he said. “Winning the first state championship as a coach in football was pretty sweet, too. But winning it three straight years is pretty incredible.”
In 2004, after going undefeated, the football team won its first football state championship in school and district history. In 2005, Ray-Pec went undefeated for a second season, with 28 straight wins, and won the State Championship for the second year. In 2006, Ray-Pec completed the three-peat with its third Class 5 State Championship.
Kruse was honored in 2017 as a finalist for state Activities Director of the Year.
“The A.D. position has been an absolute joy to me,” Kruse said. “From our band, choir, theater, to all of our athletic teams, I am amazed every day by the number of talented students we have in this district. The coaches and sponsors here do an amazing job, and the amount of time they put in for students is incredible.”
Over the years, the number and scope of activities has increased. The District added trapshooting and girls wrestling most recently, and also added lower level teams to give more students an opportunity to be involved.
“The biggest thing that I have noticed is that students who get involved in something are more likely to be successful in the classroom,” he said. “We have a very high percentage of students involved in something, whether it is the performing arts, athletics, or clubs.” Kruse presents an annual report to the School Board that shows the correlation between student involvement and grade point average.
Another change over the years has been the growth in the district.
“Trying to stay a step ahead of the needs of a district our size is a challenge,” he said. “We have always had a very supportive school board and a community that loves its school district.”
Among his colleagues throughout the metro area, Kruse is still best known as “the A.D. who postponed Prom.” That year, Prom was in late March, and a severe winter storm was forecast. The decision to postpone Prom was controversial because of floral orders, dinner reservations, hair and nail appointments, and more. After making the decision to reschedule Prom, Kruse was glad that the snowstorm that arrived that Saturday was a blizzard.
On a more serious note, he said that he is most thankful for the relationships made during his career.
“So many people have impacted my life in a positive way here, and I cherish the lifelong friendships I've made,” he said. “I enjoy coming to school each day. I really wouldn't call it a job. I was able to do something I enjoyed every day, and not many people get to actually say that.”
Kruse and his wife, Kim, live in Raymore. Kim teaches physical education/health at Ray-Pec High School and also coaches. Their children, Cole and Cassie, are both Ray-Pec graduates and now attending college. Kruse coached Cole during the 2013-2015 football seasons.
“That was one of my favorite things I did here,” he said. “And I was able to watch Cole and Cassie go through all 12 years in this district. Watching them grow and mature and compete in activities was very special. My greatest accomplishment, however, was getting Kim to say ‘I do’ 28 years ago. She has been a teacher and coach in this district for the past 14 years, and I still contend that I am not even the best coach in my house.”
What’s next for Kruse?
“I will probably resurface somewhere coaching and teaching next year – it just can’t be in a Missouri public school,” he said. “The Missouri Public School Retirement system is very good, and having the ability financially to received retirement benefits and continue to work is a great opportunity for my family.”
Photo: After the Nov. 15, 2019, defeat of Liberty North High School, Tom Kruse holds the district championship trophy. (Photo by Victor Carr)