Kevin Milder

Kevin Milder

Kevin Milder is a well-known name in western Illinois. He’s served as the head coach of the Lena-Winslow Panthers wrestling team for nearly three decades and has been a part of the football program nearly the same amount of time.

State championships, college wrestlers, unbelievable success with Le-Win – and he started it all in Clinton.

Milder graduated from Clinton High School in 1989, moving on to the University of Northern Iowa for college. When he graduated he briefly returned home and worked as a substitute teacher.

That’s when he and his wife found Le-Win.

“I took a job in Lena, Illinois with the Lena-Winslow, school district in the fall of 1994,” Milder said. “My wife’s uncle worked for the school district at the time and told me they were looking for a physical education teacher and a wrestling coach. I had never heard of Lena before but applied, got the job, and 28 years later I’m still there.”

In his time with the Panthers, Milder has coached the wrestling team to three state titles and one state runner-up. Wrestling was his first priority having wrestled as a River King under some of the best coaches known to the state.

“I have always been proud to say I am from Clinton,” Milder said. “Shortly after I accepted the head wrestling coach position at Lena-Winslow, I spoke with my former coach Bob Lueders and his former assistant coach Ken Wilkens about the job. They were both very helpful and supportive. One of the highlights of my early coaching career was to be able to take my team to the Clinton Tournament (now the Bob Lueders’ Invitational) and wrestle in front of Coach Lueders. He was very influential on me and many other wrestlers who went to Clinton. He preached hard work, toughness and determination, which I try to instill in the kids that I coach.”

Those three decades and pool of accolades earned him a spot in the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association (IWCOA) HAll of Fame in 2020.

“It is an incredible honor for me personally but also a reflection of the outstanding kids I have been able to coach and the incredible assistant coaches I have worked with over my 28 years as the head coach.”

Football came a little later, but even as a defensive coordinator he’s been a part of an additional five state championship teams. That most recent team won the Class 1A title just this November.

“I did not get involved with football for the first three years,” Milder said. “I felt at the time teaching and being the head wrestling coach was enough. After a coaching change in 1997, I was asked if I would like to get involved with the football program. I became a volunteer assistant coach the first year, and then moved up to defensive coordinator in my second year and still hold that position.

“I work with an amazing group of people in both sports and work in a very supportive community,” Milder said. “My family has been very supportive and very involved in my coaching career. My son was a member of the 2017 football and wrestling state title teams, as well as, a ball boy with the 2010 state champion football team. My daughter was able to be on the sidelines as a water girl for the 2013 state champion football team, and my wife, who is also from Clinton, has been in the stands and done a little bit of everything as a team mom for all the state titles.”

His connection to Clinton didn’t end with his career move to Lena. His parents, Ken and Pat Milder, remain Clinton residents to this day.

And he looks back on his career and can’t help relate it to his positive experience with Clinton High School.

“My time in Clinton was very rewarding,” Milder said. “I was able to compete alongside some great teammates, many of whom I am still in touch with today. As I said before, I was able to compete for two Hall of Fame head coaches in both football and wrestling. I was able to form positive relationships with many of my former coaches and teachers, and I’m still in touch with many of them today.”

He’s earned his spot as one of the greats among Le-Win sports and continues to do so. The Panthers are currently ranked No. 3 in Class 1A schools in wrestling according to the most recent IWCOA rankings.

What he remembers as a River King is simply being involved with some of the greats like Bob Lueders and Dale Giesler – and that’s the best advice he can pass on to his athletes or any student that crosses his path.

“”My advice would be to get involved. Doesn’t matter with what but just get involved,” Milder said. “Doesn’t matter with what but just get involved and put in the work. We talk a lot about ‘buying in’ and putting in the work here at Lena-Winslow and I think that is a major reason for our success.

“I had so many great teachers and coaches during my time at Clinton that made my time there very memorable. Many of the people I went to school with at Clinton have gone on to be very successful, which I think is a direct reflection of the staff at Clinton High School during my time there.”

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