By Tom Nader
Publisher and Editor
The “Getting to Know” series is designed to help the community learn more about the coaches and administrators that are guiding today’s Portage County student-athletes to be tomorrow’s leaders.
Today, we get to know Waterloo High School wrestling head coach John Foster, who is in his second season leading the Vikings’ program.
Q: What schools did you attend growing up?
A: I am originally from a small town in South Florida named Pahokee, but we moved to Ohio when I was young, and I attended Waterloo Elementary, Waterloo Middle and Waterloo High School (Class of 1995). I played football and basketball — and trust me, I take a lot of teasing from the wrestling community about my basketball background.
A: Kent State University and the University of Akron.
Q: Current occupation?
A: I have been employed with Portage County Job and Family Services since 2004. I worked a number of years in child protective services and currently work for the child support division.
Q: What inspired you to be a coach?
A: My dad Riley Foster inspired me to coach. My dad starting coaching both baseball and football in south Florida after college. He continued coachinga after moving to Ohio, where he coached baseball and was the head football coach for Waterloo for many years.
Q: What makes being a coach at Waterloo special to you?
A: Being the coach at Waterloo is special to me because of the community. The support I get from the school staff and in the community is great. It especially shows at the big D3 Classic we host every year. I get help from teachers, administration, friends, family, random community members and alumni. It is pretty amazing.
Q: Who has been your biggest mentor?
A: Definitely my dad Riley. I was able to be on the sidelines with him as a kid, working as a water boy or ball boy, but I also played for him at one point. Dad always found a way to get the best out of kids and that is something special. In terms of wrestling specifically, it is definitely Brian Munger. Brian lived and breathed for the Waterloo wrestling program for years and being an assistant alongside Brian and learning from him was a huge influence on me and my coaching.
Q: Funny story nobody would believe from your playing days?
A: I think a funny story from my playing days that most people don’t believe now, especially the kids I coach, is that I wasn’t always chubby and used to be fast. Unfortunately, some of the kids’ parents that knew me back then have had to verify this with their kids over the years. I don’t think it is that unbelievable!
Q: Funny story nobody would believe from your coaching career?
A: One of the stories that I seem to tell the most is not necessarily about something that happened in a match, but is about a wrestler during the setup for our D3 tournament. I had a young man pestering me repeatedly for something to do, so I sent him to help my wife in the concession stand. Once there, he was told to open cases of water bottles and put them in the coolers. After the young man didn’t return for some time, my wife went to check on him and he had opened several cases of water and poured the individual bottles of water into the coolers. He responded with, “You told me to put the water into the coolers.” That one makes people shake their head every time I tell it.
Q: Favorite TV show?
A: East Bound and Down.
Q: Favorite movie?
A: Step Brothers.
Q: Favorite musical artist?
A: Run D.M.C.
Q: Favorite food or meal?
A: That is tough, because I’m a chubby guy and like to eat, so I’m gonna give you the top three in detail. French fries and don’t try to sneak those nasty cajun fries in there. Bone in barbecue chicken on the grill over charcoal and fresh pineapple cold out of the fridge.
Q: Best vacation?
A: Any vacation with my wife Stephanie and our three kids. I could have fun with them at a funeral.
Q: Favorite quote?
A: “I hate to lose more than I like to win.” — Larry Bird
And this is why I refuse to play monopoly with any friends or family members.
Q: Describe your coaching philosophy?
A: Give effort and compete. That’s it. Plain and simple. Life is about competition and effort. Compete for what you want and give the necessary effort to make it happen.
Q: What does it mean to you to be a Viking student-athlete?
A: A Viking student-athlete is a young man or woman that shows up and puts forth effort everyday. Effort in the way they approach the day, effort in the classroom, effort in their relationships with their families and friends, effor tin their community and effort in whatever extra sport or extracurricular they may be passionate about.
Q: Favorite restaurant?
A: Currently my favorite is Uncle Tito’s Mexican Grill in Atwater. The Paul Burrito never disappoints, and I know about food, people.
Q: Favorite teacher from high school?
A: Mrs. Hankin. She taught Home Economics and always made class a good time.
Q: Advice you would give your younger self?
A: “This, too, shall pass.” I think it is easy for young people to get caught up in worries, especially today. I wish I could get the kids I coach to realize that bad things come and go. Things that seem so important to you now, won’t even be an afterthought at some point in time.
Q: Favorite coach from your playing days?
A: Doug Mori, Sr. He gets a lot of love from the Rovers, but Doug came to Waterloo at one point to coach his son Dougie, who graduated with me. Doug Sr. was an amazing combination of the funniest and most intense coach I ever played for. I think I model my coaching similar to that. I love to mess around have fun with my guys, but I get pretty fired up at times.
Q: Coaching resume?
A: A lot of youth sports! I feel like I have coached every sport on the planet, with the exception of water polo. I am a floater, not a swimmer — I have been an assistant varsity football coach at Waterloo, an assistant wrestling coach under Brian Munger for about three years and the head wrestling coach now for two years.
Q: Favorite sports team?
A: The Pittsburgh Steelers. I’m a lifelong Steelers fan surrounded by a family and friends group full of Browns fans. My favorite team to watch in person is the Waterloo girls basketball team. My daughter Lilly plays, and I coached her and several teammates throughout youth, so they hold a special place with me.
Q: Favorite athlete then?
A: Ronnie Lott. I always loved the football IQ and the level of intensity he played at.
Q: Favorite athlete now?
A: Spencer Lee. He wrestles at 125 pounds at the University of Iowa. He genuinely seems like the nicest guy, but when he steps on the mat, he absolutely dominates people. He won an NCAA title with a torn ACL in both knees! Come on, who does that?!
Q: First job as a teenager?
A: I worked for my grandfather on his quarter-horse farm. I cleaned stalls, busted ice out of water buckets, fed the animals and spread manure. Looking back on it now, I had a lot of fun doing it. The time spent in those barns with my family means a lot to me.
Q: Family member that always gave you the best advice?
A: I don’t know about a family member giving advice, but the family member that is always there to help me is my wife Stephanie. We will be married 25 years this August, and she is absolutely my favorite person. Without her help and support, I could never make it through a season.
Q: Halloween costume last year?
A: I love Halloween and anyone close to me will tell you I have had some next-level costumes. Unfortunately, last year I did not get the opportunity to dress up, but over the years, I’d say Mr. T, Nacho Libre and Boss Hogg were a few of my best.
Q: Favorite video game?
A: It will always be EA Sports NCAA Football. EA Sports tore it away from me when they discontinued it, but it is coming back by popular demand in the summer of 2024, and I will be ready to dominate my competition (my son) once again!
Q: First car?
A: White and green 1992 Ford Ranger. Me and my friend used to call it “The Truck of Doom.”
Q: Shoutout to former teammates?
A: Ed Eichler was a great teammate in football and basketball and someone I could always count on when we played together. Ed and I are still good friends and see each other at sporting events supporting our own kids the way our parents supported us.
Great story and thank you for sharing!! Thanks to Charles Chevrolet as ell love the things that come out of our Village!!