Winter 2015

The legacy of skiing coach Willy Schaeffler

Jimmy Schaeffler is the creator and shepherd of the Willy Schaeffler Scholarship Fund, which has raised more than $1 million since its inception in 1986. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

Jimmy Schaeffler is the creator and shepherd of the Willy Schaeffler Scholarship Fund, which has raised more than $1 million since its inception in 1986. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

My father, Willy Schaeffler, was head coach of the ski team at the University of Denver for 22 years, from 1948–70. During his tenure, he and his DU ski teams won 13 of the 18 NCAA skiing championships that were held. Many say that is a legacy that will never be repeated. Willy also was head coach of the men’s soccer team from 1962–69.

During the time he was at DU, Willy also served for two years as director of skiing events for the remarkably successful 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, Calif., and as coach of the 1972 U.S. ski team in Sapporo, Japan, that won gold and silver women’s medals in alpine skiing.

Yet more important than his statistics is the manner in which Willy recruited, trained, competed and won. High-level academic performance and integrity were both top-level standards. Classroom excellence was even required of the many Norwegian and other foreign athletes Willy brought to Denver to compete for the University. Studying full time in the English language was a challenge they would have to master along the way — just as he himself had done as a German immigrant entering the U.S. under my mother, Betty’s, sponsorship in 1947.

In addition, he taught his hundreds of student-athletes the importance of humility, by way of actually practicing what he preached. Until very late into his DU career, Willy would run up and down the steps of the football stadium, shouldering a piggybacking DU ski team member, undertaking the very exercise and training that he required of his athletes. That’s not something you hear of too often these days.

I think that one of my favorite stories of my father is his all-so-wise saying, “The difference between a good coach and a great one is the ability to tell whether to pat the athlete on the back, or to kick him in the butt. The problem being, the two places are so close together.” It simply reflects real life so well, which is what great sports should always do.

To this day, I am sure that if I were ever lucky enough to ask him, my father would affirm that his greatest lifetime accomplishment was DU’s ongoing foreign exchange scholarship fund created in his name for various DU students, especially one special scholarship founded in 1986 for disabled scholar-athletes, with a preference for competitive skiers.

Jimmy Schaeffler is the creator and shepherd of the Willy Schaeffler Scholarship Fund, which has raised more than $1 million since its inception in 1986. He is father to University of Denver graduates Willy Schaeffler (IMBA ’10) and Cory Schaeffler (BSBA ’09, IMBA ’10). Jimmy is a 40-year veteran of the TV business, including involvement with ABC Sports, the U.S. Olympic Committee, the International Management Group and his own telecom consultancy, The Carmel Group. His father, Willy Schaeffler, died in 1988.

 

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