"It's cool to think about all the ways Kirkwood has become a part of Missouri racquetball," said Michael Von Gerichten as he reflected on his accomplished 27-year career as the founder and head coach of the Kirkwood High School Racquetball Club.
Michael retired from coaching last year. And while winning national championships in 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2022 is impressive, even more remarkable is that Michael founded and grew the Kirkwood High School Racquetball Club to become the largest high school racquetball club in the United States.
Michael started the racquetball club to spend time with his son Andrew between Andrew's high school cross country and track seasons. "The first year we had six boys," said Michael. "The second year, we had 17 boys; the third year, we added a girls' team. This year over 160 kids will play for Kirkwood."
The club now has seven coaches and offers high school and middle school teams; there is a team for everyone at any skill level. More importantly, the teams are inclusive and the players are encouraged to participate in other school activities. "We want our kids to be involved in other things besides racquetball," said Michael. "Do theater, play another sport, play an instrument. We want them to discover all different things because it makes them more well-rounded."
"I am so proud of the seven coaches at Kirkwood now. They spend countless volunteer hours coaching and even use some of their vacation time to travel with the team to Portland, Oregon, for nationals. I'm also proud of all the current and former players that have brought the program the past three years to this next level of growth and to winning nationals again this year," said Michael. His eyes light up when he talks about running into one of his former players and recalling a game or a tournament. If you really want to see Michael smile, ask him about some of his former players who went on to coach racquetball or form racquetball clubs at other schools around St. Louis.
"I had no idea how this racquetball team would expand beyond Kirkwood," said Michael. "One of our players became a teacher at Lindbergh and started their racquetball program. One of our coaches married the racquetball coach from Cor Jesu Academy. Another one of our former players now coaches at Nerinx." One of Michael's favorite stories is how a quick locker room conversation with Dan Whitley led to Dan not only joining Michael's coaching team but also to Dan becoming the Racquet Sports GM at Vetta Sports.
While it could easily seem that racquetball is Michael's "Kirkwood claim to fame," he will be the first to give that honor to his wife, Debbie. "Debbie is a graduate of Kirkwood High School. She and I met while I was getting my degree in social work at St. Louis University," said Michael. He and Debbie moved to Kirkwood so their two children, Andrew and Megan, could attend Kirkwood schools. "I thought it was weird that Debbie and I would go to PTA meetings at Keysor and run into people she went to grade school with," said Michael. "It bodes well for the community that people want to stay and raise their kids here. And as a coach, I can see how easy it is to form lifelong relationships with players and their families. I am so fortunate that Debbie allowed me the opportunity for these memories."
Michael values building relationships not just on the court but also in business. He founded MVG Painting and Decorating in 1976, and some kids he coached worked for him in the summers. "I know they are not going to be painters," said Michael. "But their parents appreciate the opportunity for their kid to learn life skills on the job." Skills like practical thinking, time management, and communicating with people who are 40 years older are things that Michael coaches off the court.
"Owning a painting company is one thing, but what I try to do is use it as a way for people to learn life skills," said Michael. "Every person I have hired has helped me, and I've learned from them as much as they've learned from me. It's a relationship that goes both ways. Every day there is a life-learning experience somewhere. That's the attitude I take in life."
Michael's natural penchant for coaching allows him to help people discover their best selves and feel like they are a part of something special.
Michael explained, "Painting is rewarding because you can look back and say, 'Our company was responsible for that. We did that.' We'll be in some homes for two days, and sometimes will be there for a year painting the entire interior and exterior of a home. I want everyone on our team to appreciate the result of their talent and hard work."
Besides being a talented painter, Michael has created a successful and highly referred business, including his son Andrew, Andrew's son Will, and Andrew's stepson Chase. "I'm very fortunate. I wanted my kids and grandkids to find their own path. I'm thrilled they are a part of MVG Painting and Decorating, but I never expected it." Much like he can look back on his coaching career, Michael can look back on his business career with the same sense of accomplishment.
"I had no game plan, no five or 10-year plan for business or coaching. I did everything by the seat of my pants. I just tried to make a living painting and have fun coaching," laughed Michael as he wondered, "Who would have thought that coaching those six boys all those years ago would lead to all these different Kirkwood connections?"