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Texas | Columns

"Hindsights"

Looking back at:

Coach Chester Klaerner

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

The Klaerner family of Fredericksburg lived in the public eye for much of the 20th century. Alfred "Smokey" Klaerner served as Gillespie County sheriff for 20 years. His son Hugo played baseball for the Chicago White Sox before serving as county sheriff for 30 years. Another son, Chester, coached the Fredericksburg High School football team to 7 district championships between 1933 and 1948.

Chester's interest in athletics showed at an early age. At the 1925 Gillespie County Track, Field and Literary Meet, 14 year old Chester, representing Live Oak School, won the high jump, the broad jump and the shot put.

At Fredericksburg High School Chester earned varsity letters in football, basketball and track. When he graduated in 1929, Rice Institute offered him an athletic scholarship making him one of the first players at FHS to be offered an athletic scholarship to a Southwest Conference school.

Chester lettered in football, basketball, track and baseball at Rice. In football he helped turn the program around.

The Owl football team won only 6 games in the 3 years before Chester made the varsity squad. Over the next 3 years the team won 21 games. The 1930 Rice Owls beat both UT and A&M for the first time in history.

On the football field Chester had a reputation for being tough, talented, tenacious and durable. A contemporary described him as "all man and a little more than a yard wide."

In baseball he pitched 2 no-hitters his junior season—against Baylor and SMU. He finished the year (1932) with a record of 8-2, and he made the All-American college baseball team. (Rice dropped baseball his senior season.)

A versatile athlete, he finished 4th in the javelin throw at the 1933 AAU Track and Field Championships at Soldier Field in Chicago.

He turned down a pro baseball contract to finish his degree at Rice. Then in the summer of 1933, Fredericksburg High School hired Chester to replace W. C. "Westy" Westerfeldt as head football coach.


Coach Chester Klaerner
Coach Chester Klaerner
Courtesy Gillespie County Historical Society

Chester experienced quick success as a coach, guiding the Hillbillies to the district football championship in 1934, but he still harbored dreams of playing big league baseball. In the spring of 1935 he took a leave from his duties at Fredericksburg High School and signed a professional baseball contract with the New York Giants.

His friend and assistant Andy Andrews took over as football coach at Fredericksburg. Coach Andrews led the Hillbillies to district championships in 1935 and 1936.

Meanwhile Chester went to the Giants rookie camp in Tampa, Florida. Over the next 2 seasons (1935 and 1936) he played in Nashville, Tyler, Rayne (Louisiana) and Longview, but he never got the call to the big leagues.

When Andy Andrews resigned in 1937, Chester Klaerner came back to Fredericksburg High School to coach the Hillbillies. His teams won 6 district championships over the next 12 seasons. The 1941 team won the regional championship— the top title the school could play for at the time.


Most years, just before the start of school, Coach Klaerner held a 10-day football camp under the shady pecan trees along Live Oak Creek at Klaerners Park, 8 miles out the Harper Highway. Players brought their own bedding, towels, eating utensils and personal effects. Local merchants donated the food.

A former player described Coach Klaerner as "tough as nails but fair. He had high expectations. He got the best out of us."

Chester Klaerner never played major league baseball, but he never lost his love for the great American past time. In the summers Coach Klaerner, his older brother Hugo and younger brother Alfons played baseball for the Fredericksburg Giants of the Hill Country League.

Then in 1948 the Fredericksburg school board offered Coach Klaerner a new contract, but he rejected it. The Fredericksburg Standard reported the reason to be "a matter of a salary increase."

Coach Klaerner taught the next 6 years in Boerne; then retired to his ranch, 4 miles northeast of Fredericksburg, just off Cave Creek Road.

Rice University elected Chester Klaerner to its Athletic Hall of Fame in 1974.

Michael Barr
"Hindsights" October 15, 2023

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