This year, The Examiner’s Coach of the Year Award is shared by a new kid on the block and a veteran who has won enough awards to stock two trophy cases.

This year, The Examiner’s Coach of the Year Award is shared by a new kid on the block and a veteran who has won enough awards to stock two trophy cases.

Jeff Tolbert, who led Van Horn High School to a 7-4 record and its second postseason berth in the 56-year history of the program, and Greg Oder, whose 12-2 Jaguars brought home the second state championship in the 20-year history of the school, will share this year’s award.

“To be mentioned in the same sentence as Coach Oder is enough for me,” said Tolbert, whose Falcons weathered a 21-game losing streak that spanned the entire 2008 and ’09 seasons.

“To be named The Examiner Coach of the Year along with Coach Oder is awesome, amazing. It’s something I want to share with my coaches, my players and the entire school.”

Oder, who was named the Class 6 Coach of the Year by the Missouri Broadcasters and Sports Writers Association, agreed.

“I always feel kind of funny winning a coach of the year award, because I didn’t do it alone,” said Oder, as a steady stream of former South stars like Blaine Dalton, Dominique and Winston Wright and Brian Geraghty visited Oder in his office.

“I think they should call it the Staff of the Year Award. I got to thinking – Kelly (Groom) and Mike (Moon) have been with me 15 years. We haven’t lost many coaches over the years because this is a great place to coach. And we have great players and great young men.”

He paused for a moment, and smiled.

“You usually win something like this when you win a state championship,” Oder said, “and that’s all on the players. What Coach Tolbert did over at Van Horn is pretty special. It’s an honor for me to share the award with him. I know how hard he’s worked to get that program going in the right direction.”

Four years ago, Van Horn High School became part of the Independence School District.

The Falcons didn’t win a game their first two seasons, but that simply made Tolbert and his staff more determined and dedicated to turn the downtrodden program around.

“I was in it for the long haul,” said Tolbert, who is also the Falcons wrestling coach. “I didn’t know if our administration thought I was the right man for the job after that 21-game losing streak, but I wasn’t going to turn my back on those kids.

“We finally found a way to win, and when we were 2-8 last season we all began to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

“We had a lot of very good players back from last year’s team and we enjoyed a lot of success this season and surprised some people. But the players in our locker room were not surprised. They expected to have success this year, and they won with class and dignity. And I can never say enough good things about what they accomplished on the field or in the hallways of our high school.”

Oder’s 2011 campaign started with an abundance of uncertainty.

He had one returning starter on offense, a relatively small defensive unit and faced that killer Suburban Big Six and district schedule.

“I don’t think people thought we’d do much of anything this year,” Oder said while sorting out state championship patches and medals that will be distributed to his players.

“We had a lot of question marks going into the year. But this group was special. They loved playing football and they loved playing alongside each other. They were a family. They really loved each other, and that’s one thing you can’t measure or anticipate.

“It’s kind of fun now to look back on the season, because you have no time to appreciate anything during the season because every game means so much.

“We were designing our championship rings and the first rings we won had 13-0 – the team record – on the side.

“This year, we put our record, which was 12-2, and that explains the path we followed to get to that championship game against CBC. We lost to Rockhurst and Blue Springs (in the first district game) and a lot of teams might have quit because it looked like our season was going to come to an early end.

“But the kids kept working and doing everything it takes to win.”

And that desire and mindset culminated in a 40-37 victory over Christian Brothers College High School in the Class 6 title game.

“We went (to state) back in ’08 and lost, and we didn’t want to lose back-to-back games at state and have people start comparing us to the Buffalo Bills (an NFL team that played in four consecutive Super Bowls and lost each one of them).

“The only thing I don’t like about state is that by the time you do all the interviews after the game, and go into the locker room, the kids are gone and you can’t celebrate with them and tell them what they mean to me and our coaching staff. But we’ve had time to tell them how special they are. I wouldn’t be talking to you today about this award if it wasn’t for them.”