The hiring committee chosen to find a replacement for longtime successful varsity boys basketball coach Kent Kroupa did not have to look too far.
In fact, they just had to look to Kroupa’s bench.
Steve Kujawa, a history teacher and longtime Kroupa assistant, was chosen last week to take over a program Kroupa manned for 20 years.
“It’s an honor, it really is, to follow in the footsteps of Kent Kroupa, who has been absolutely phenomenal not just from a wins-loss perspective, but for his work in the community and how he built relationships with the student-athletes.”
Kujawa said he would bring that same philosophy to his coaching reign, focusing on molding solid citizens first, with the wins hopefully in tow.
Kujawa got his start in New Berlin West in 1994-95 under Jeff Lewiston, where he was a freshman coach. The following year, he was bumped up to varsity assistant.
Since then he’s also coached at Waukesha North as a varsity assistant and at Oak Creek as the girls freshman coach, but a majority of his career has been at Whitnall on Kroupa’s staff at all three levels, including four years as a varsity assistant.
All told, he’s coached for 19 years and has taught for 15 in Oak Creek and at Whitnall High School, where he is currently a History teacher.
And basketball has been his in his blood forever. His father Ken was a longtime area coach with great success as a girls basketball coach at Oak Creek and the boys coach at Cudahy. Steve Kujawa played for his dad for two seasons at Cudahy before graduating in 1989.
“He’s had a successful run and has served as a mentor for me,” Steve Kujawa said. “It’s kind of a like a passing of the torch.”
And those who are familiar with Ken’s coaching persona, which in a word was emotional, will see a similar demeanor from Steve on the Whitnall sideline.
“I’m a chip off the old block, “Steve Kujawa said. “I’m emotional, too. I care about my players and look out for their best interest, but you have to pick your place when it comes to being emotional.
Of course, Whitnall fans should be familiar with the idea of having a firecracker of a coach on the bench. Kroupa was well-known for the intensity he displayed on the sidelines.
That’s not the only thing that will remain the same as Kujawa takes over. He will continue to focus on Kroupa’s ABCs – academics plus behavior equals court time – and make sure the Falcons remain one of the best man-to-man defensive teams in the area.
“That’s going to be mandatory,” he said. “You have to play strong half-court defense.”
As for when the Falcons have the ball, Kujawa said there would be some things he adopts from Kroupa and a few new wrinkles he throws in. He expects the Falcons to remain a Woodland Conference contender, like they have been the last several years, despite losing a number of talented seniors who led Whitnall to the sectional semifinals last year.
“We lost a lot of guys, but our freshmen and jayvee teams won double digits (games), and we’ll have guys who came off the bench and made significant contributions coming back. And there are other individuals who have showed vast improvements.”