With 1,143 wins over 89 seasons during her 46-year career at Elizabethtown College, Yvonne “Yonnie” Kauffman ’66 is one of the winningest coaches in U.S. sports. The three-sport athlete at Bridgewater College went on to coach those same sports—women’s basketball, field hockey and women’s tennis—while also working as a physical education professor at Elizabethtown. But Kauffman defines success as something larger than hoisting a championship trophy in the air (although, she certainly hopes all coaches get to have that moment during their careers). What has added the most value to her life are the relationships she’s built through sports, whether with her mentors, such as Bridgewater College Associate Professor of Physical Education, Emerita, Laura Mapp, fellow coaches and the players whose lives she’s impacted through her own coaching.
“You have so many close relationships in sports: You work together, play together, win together and lose together. It’s a togetherness and friendship that you’ll always have,” Kauffman says.
Kauffman’s love of sports began at a young age. As a child growing up in Manheim, Pa., she played pickup basketball games at the local courts and practiced with the youth baseball team. Although the baseball coaches asked her to join the team, her mother wouldn’t allow it. It just wasn’t done back then.
Kauffman discovered Bridgewater through another mentor, her Manheim Central High School field hockey coach Allegra Hess ’60. At Bridgewater, Kauffman played basketball, field hockey and tennis all four years, while earning her bachelor’s in health and physical education. Mapp was her coach for all three sports, and Kauffman adopted some of the same principles she learned from Mapp into her own coaching style, most notably caring about players as people. Rather than focusing on only the X’s and O’s, Kauffman was concerned with getting to know her players and building them up.
“My strength is taking five strong individuals—five stars—and making them into a team,” Kauffman says. “You have to work as a team. If you work as an individual, you’re not going to succeed.”
By the time Kauffman was a senior at Bridgewater, Hess had gone on to coach and teach at Elizabethtown College. When a position in the college’s physical education department opened up as Kauffman was graduating, Hess knew just whom to recommend. Kauffman started her career at Elizabethtown teaching physical education classes and coached cheerleading and became field hockey coach her second year. She quickly added women’s tennis, then women’s basketball, and coached all three sports from 1970-83 (she eventually stopped coaching tennis and field hockey but coached basketball until her retirement in 2012). For a time, Kauffman was the only woman in the athletics department, and she traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with government officials about how the school could become compliant with Title IX, the landmark civil rights case that is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
During her tenure, Kauffman guided the women’s basketball team to NCAA championship titles in 1982 and ’89 and championship game berths in ’83 and ’84. As field hockey coach, she led the team to the 1981 Final Four. Under her leadership, the women’s tennis team celebrated a national champion singles player and national champion doubles team. She was inducted into Bridgewater’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 1997.
Today, Kauffman is still close with many of her players. She recently attended the wedding of the daughter of a player from 1974 and had dinner with three players from the 1982 championship basketball team.
“I was so fortunate for the opportunities at Bridgewater and to be able to play three sports there,” Kauffman says. “You gain more in all the sports you play or coach. Life has been very good to me.”
— By Jessica Luck