But while Matthew Winkler did not rule out a possible return to coaching one day, he stepped down from the head coaching position of the Highlands Bluebirds soccer program to devote more time to family. Winkler and his wife Elizabeth have a 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter.
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Winkler took over the program in 2010 just two years after the team finished its longest postseason run in school history with a state runner-up finish to Louisville St. Xavier. Highlands continued to enjoy success going 88-55-17 with three district championships, two region crowns and two elite eight finishes in the state tournament in 2010 and 2013.
"I've known Matthew since I came to Fort Thomas going on 10 years now," said Matt Haskamp, Highlands Director of Athletics. "He's just a very good role model for our boys. He's not a guy that cuts corners. He really cares about what type of men our kids became. That's a hard thing to replace. He inherited a good program, but I think he enhanced upon that. They put a pretty good product out on the field."
Highlands finished 18-3-2 this past season beating Newport Central Catholic, 1-0 in the 36th District championship. The Bluebirds then beat Beechwood (4-0) in the 9th Region quarterfinals before suffering a tough 1-0 loss to Ryle in the region semifinals. Highlands beat defending state champion and eventual state runner-up Covington Catholic, 2-1 in Fort Thomas on Sept. 13.
"Those elite eight runs were fantastic, but just overall, working with the players and the parents at Highlands were fantastic," Winkler said. "It was a blessing to have the opportunity to work with all those kids and grind out some awesome. We beat CovCath several times over the seven years along with some other notable wins."
Highlands graduates 11 seniors from that squad. But the next head coach will see the return of talented players such as Nick Gish and Drew Rom. The Bluebirds Junior Varsity won the 9th Region JV Tournament.
"My goal when I entered the program was to improve the program and take it to a different level from where it was before," Winkler said. "The program is in a better place than when I started and that's nothing against previous head coaches. Times are changing. You want your program to be the best and eventually win that state championship for these kids and this community."
JV Head Coach Neal Frink also resigned weeks ago. That leaves Varsity assistant coaches Dave Kraus, Chad Niedert along with Freshman Head Coach Matt Stephens and Goal Keeper coach Eric Fessler on staff pending the hiring of the next head coach. Niedert teaches Pre-Calculus and Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles at Highlands High School.
Haskamp said he's working with Highlands Principal Brian Robinson and other administrators to plan a course of action in hiring the next head coach. Haskamp also said he hopes to meet with the assistants to discuss the situation.
"The transition between head coaches is tough," Haskamp said. "I've been involved in it when I was coaching. You have to give the head coach the ability to build their program and staff. In a perfect world, that all works out with the folks you have on (staff). I think we have good people there and hopefully, the next head coach and some of these guys can work together well to get the staff built. If they want to go in a different direction, we'll have to have discussions at that time."
Niedert played soccer at Xavier University from 2006 to 2009 after graduating from Oswego (Illinois) in 2006. He served as head coach of North Oldham's program in 2013 leading the Mustangs to a 20-5 record with 29th District and 8th Region championships. The Mustangs then beat Central Hardin on penalty kicks before losing to Bowling Green on penalty kicks in the elite eight of the state tournament.
|This is a copy of the letter Winkler sent to the parents.|