Assistant Coach, Wapahani high School
Once a Raider, always a Raider.
To some, that may just be a slogan. But to Chris Willis, a longtime boys’ basketball assistant coach for Wapahani High School, it is a calling. It was that way when he was in high school himself, and it remains that way today.
For all the time and effort that Willis has provided to his school and community for 26 seasons, he has been named a winner of the 2023 IBCA/PGC Transformational Coach Award.
“Coach Willis wants our players to experience the same fun, discipline and life lessons that he experienced while at Wapahani High School,” Raiders varsity coach Matt Luce said in nominating Willis. “He shows up every day and is loyal. Chris offers a positive leadership coupled with a disciplined approach similar the one he experienced from his high school coach, Chris Benedict.”
A 1997 graduate of Wapahani, Willis was a three-year varsity player who helped the Raiders to a 17-5 campaign as a senior. That season included a 73-72 setback to eventual state runner-up Delta in Jay County Sectional final.
After high school, Willis immediately began giving back as a coach. From 1997 through 2007, six years with sixth-graders and four years with eighth-graders, he coached at Selma Middle School, the middle school that feeds Wapahani. Then in 2007, when Luce became the varsity coach at Wapahani, Willis joined the high school staff and has been there ever since.
On the court, Willis has guided the Raiders’ junior varsity team to an average of 17 victories per season over the past 16 years. But it is his overall positive impact that matters even more.
“Chris helps lead the total Wapahani basketball program,” Luce said. “He is very active in our Wapahani Junior Pro Basketball Program (kindergarten through fifth grade). Each Saturday morning from October through February, Chris serves the young boys in our community. He sets the gym up, helps with the schedule, referees games and is a positive role model to our kids.
“Chris is also instrumental in our Sunday youth basketball program. For the last 16 years, he has helped organize and lead the East Central Indiana Youth Basketball Program for boys and girls. On Sundays, you can find him setting up the gym, concession stand or even officiating when we need an extra referee. This past year, the ECI League had 64 boys’ teams and 24 girls’ teams playing throughout the east central Indiana. Coach Willis continues to impact many kids and families in our community through the game of basketball.”
Willis noted people such as Mike Luce, Kris Luce, Chris Benedict and Terry Bales who impacted him during his time when he became an all-Mid-Eastern Conference and all-East Central Indiana player. Mike Luce was his first coach at Wapahani Elementary School. Kris Luce was a long-time teammate and fellow ’97 graduate. Benedict was his high school coach through 1993-96, and Bales was his high school coach in 1996-97.
“After watching Chris Benedict and being a part of his program, I always wanted to coach,” Willis said of his quick entry into the coaching field right after high school. “Then when Matt Luce was hired to be the Wapahani varsity coach, he knew of my interest and it all just came together. I am in a place where I want to be.”
Beyond coaching, Willis has worked for Accurate Striping of Daleville for 20 years, the past 10 as general manager. Accurate Striping is a seasonal business that allows him time in the winter to be available to work with the basketball program. Willis is appreciative that his bosses understand his commitment to his school and his community.
“Integrity is defined as living honest and being a man of your word,” Matt Luce said. “Chris Willis is as honest and loyal as you can get to his community. Coach Willis makes our Wapahani program and our Liberty-Perry Community School Corporation better. He is a great leader and just a good person.”
Willis and his wife, Abby, are parents to two adult daughters – Jalynn and Kianna.