Coach, teacher, mentor and friend... Bill Welch symbolized each of these roles during a successful 22-year career at Rose-Hulman that brought glory to the track and cross country teams and its athletes.
Seven track and field athletes earned two national championships and 19 All-American honors under Welch's guidance, and countless others earned all-conference recognition as the Engineers won seven titles between 1987-2003. Five cross country teams came home with conference championships from 1982-2003.
Welch also served as a special coach for the U.S. Olympic Training Camp in 1970 and was the National Track Coach of Iran in 1964. His Terre Haute North High School team captured the 1972 Indiana state championship—the first for the city.
It's not surprising then that Welch has been honored as National High School Track and Field Coach of the Year (1970), Indiana's Track (1968) and Cross Country Coach of the Year (1972), and was inducted into the Indiana High School Track and Field Hall of Fame (1989).
However, while the recognition is an honor, what Welch cherishes most is the time he spent in Rose-Hulman's former Shook Fieldhouse—the Sports and Recreation Center—the outdoor track, or the campus' front lawn helping student-athletes achieve their goals.
"Ultimately, I was a teacher and the sports arena was my classroom," Welch says. "You have to be a good teacher to be a good coach."
Now retired, Welch continues to mentor current and future Rose-Hulman students through the establishment of a special scholarship fund.
"Rose-Hulman students are a special breed. They are high-character people with good work ethics and strong families. I want to make sure those qualities endure in the future," he says. "I appreciated my 22 years at Rose-Hulman. I thoroughly enjoyed coaching the student-athletes. I think it is always important to give back to those things that matter in your life. And, Rose-Hulman and its students matter to me."
Rose-Hulman is grateful to Welch, as well, and inducted him into the Athletic Hall of Fame in 1997, and also named the outdoor track around Phil Brown Field in his honor in 2002.
"I'm very proud of the improvements in (Rose-Hulman's) athletic facilities during the past decade, and how the track and cross country programs continue to achieve at a high level," Welch says. "I only want the best for Rose-Hulman. That's what I'm doing with the scholarship fund, helping students achieve their personal and professional goals."
Welch's contributions are remembered by those he touched. Not a day goes by that Welch doesn't receive an email update from a former student-athlete. More than 200 former athletes attended a recognition party, organized by former Rose-Hulman and Terre Haute North athlete Greg Gibson; former All-American hurdler Phil Reksel checks in with Welch during each birthday; and the Christmas season brings countless cards, many with personal notes or family photographs.
"I have been invited to so many weddings that I have lost count," he says, smiling like a proud father. "The other day a former track athlete called me following a company meeting. His team had just spent the morning talking about goal-setting techniques, discussing the same things I preached every day in practice. He says, 'Coach, it was like I was back with you in Shook Fieldhouse at Rose-Hulman.' We shared quite a laugh about that."
You see, Bill Welch is still coaching and teaching.