Nearly 15 years after retiring from being Abilene High School’s head wrestling coach, his peers in the coaching profession are recognizing Bill Christner as they welcome him into the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
The ceremony is scheduled for noon Saturday in Salina at the Winners and Hall of Fame Banquet.
Christner, who is already a member of National Wrestling Hall of Fame, coached the Cowboys to three Class 4A State Championships. But to him, that is not the highlight of his career.
The highlight of his career was being able to coach and work with hundreds of Abilene wrestlers. Each one was special to him whether they were a state champion or a novice working out with the team. Everyone was important to the program in Christner’s eyes. Every wrestler is important to him regardless of their record because he wanted to see them grow as a person through the hard work of wrestling.
“I think this award is pretty cool,” Christner said. “This is given by the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association and those are your colleagues, the guys that you coached against. Wrestling is just such a fraternity itself and there are a lot of challenges and everyone wants to try and peak their kids at the same time at the end of the year. So you just go through so many things together with these coaches. It is just neat to be part of that family.”
The retired coach is a humble man of faith and contends that any recognition he as individual receives was because of the hard work and dedication of the wrestlers, his assistant coaches and the contributors to the wrestling program.
Christner also believes his career in coaching was a true gift from God and he fosters God’s teachings in everything he strives for and puts Him first in his life.
An Abilene High School graduate, Christner went to Bethany College in Lindsborg and obtained a degree in elementary education. Coming out of college, he wanted to be a high school head football coach and assistant track coach. Wrestling was nowhere in his thought process as far as coaching opportunities because the Hall of Fame coach only wrestled one year in high school. He played football and track successfully in college though.
Searching for a teaching opportunity led him to Gaylord, Kansas, where he spent the first three years of his teaching career. He found a coaching opportunity in Smith Center but it was as an assistant wrestling coach.
He believes this was a ‘God’ thing and he was led to a situation that became a career passion.
When he left Gaylord and Smith Center, Christner and his wife Joan returned to their hometown of Abilene to teach. Again, the only coaching opportunity was as an assistant high school coach under then head coach Dave Ciccone.
“I believe this is what God wanted me to do,” Christner said about the wrestling coaching assignment.
Christner served as the Abilene assistant coach from 1985 to 1987 when he became the head coach of the Cowboys. He held that position until 2003. For 16 seasons, Christner led the Cowboy wrestling program. Two years following his retirement he joined Abilene Middle School head coach George Havice’s staff as an assistant, a position he maintained for another 10 years until his official retirement from the school district in 2015.
During his early years coaching at the high school level, Christner admitted he struggled with teaching technique.
“We were brawlers then,” he said. “Not so much for technique. We just tried to be more physical and wear them down.”
Christner himself credits coaching colleagues that worked with him to establish a system that would work at Abilene High School. He and his assistant coaches worked hard in developing the system that became very successful at Abilene.
The coach mentioned assistant coaches Dan Brown, Terry Thorson, Tom Taplin, James Stout and Shane Palmer as being vital parts of the program in the development stages and they were with him for multiple years.
Stout took over for Christner and is still the current head coach of Abilene High School wrestling.
As a head coach at Abilene for 16 years, the Cowboys under Christner compiled a dual record of 108 wins, 69 losses and one tie. Abilene won five NCKL Championships and at one point won over 50 duals in a row.
As a team at state, the Cowboys had seven top-10 finishes, including three Class 4A State Championships. Individually, 95 wrestlers qualified for the state tournament, 42 earned state medals and nine became state champions.
Coach Christner was awarded KWOA 4A Coach of the Year in 1993, KWCA Coach of the Year twice in 1997 and 2003, and the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2008 and most recently he entered the Bethany College Hall of Fame in 2012.
Christner recognized the accomplishments of the Kids Wrestling program in Abilene and the great work of the middle school coaches like Havice and now Corey Casteel in the development of young wrestlers with the passion before they reach the high school level. He also sings praises of the work of Stout and his assistant coaches for the further development of the Cowboy program and to the numerous fans that fill the high school gym now to witness Cowboy wrestling.
Christner has felt blessed to have coached so many fine young men during his time at AHS and his primary support group of his wife Joan and their children Aaron, Amos and Annabel mean everything to him.
Bill Christner is honored to receive this Hall of Fame recognition but he deflects to the city of Abilene, the Abilene community, and its wrestlers in particular that they receive the credit for his accomplisments.
“Any award that I get is a direct result of those kids that wrestled for me, coaches that coached with me or any of the contributors that contributed to the program,” Christner said. “I just happen to be the one getting the award, but it certainly was a group or team effort and the best thing it does is it represents Abilene.”
Contact Ron Preston at firstname.lastname@example.org.