Kenneth M. “Pizza” Piazza, 77

Kenneth M. “Pizza” Piazza, age 77, of New Prague, died suddenly while riding his bike close to his home at Cedar Lake on Wednesday, July 12, 2023.  Ken was born on February 16, 1946 in Joliet, IL to Mario and Anne (Belom) Piazza.  He graduated from Joliet High School and went on to attain his Bachelor’s degree from Central College in Pella, IA.  While in college he wrestled and played football competing in several bowl games and was named to the All Iowa Conference Football Team.  It was while he was in grad school at Mankato State College, that he met Jean H. Vanasek where she was a student in his archery class.  They met again at a party not long after that and the two were married less than a year later at St. Wenceslaus Church in New Prague on August 7, 1971.  Ken’s lifelong passion was teaching, coaching, and nurturing kids.  He started out in Beloit, Kansas teaching elementary PE and was an assistant football and head wrestling coach for 12 years.  During his tenure the Beloit High School football team won 3 consecutive state titles.  Ken is considered a coaching legend in Kansas for the success of his wrestling teams.  During his 12 years his wrestlers won 4 consecutive state team titles, winning one state title by almost 100 points over the second place finisher. At a substate tournament they set a national record scoring 261 points. His wrestlers won 105 consecutive dual matches which at the time was a national record and won 35 consecutive tournament championships. It was in Kansas where both his sons were born.

Ken, Jean and the boys moved to Cody in 1983 to enjoy the wonders of Wyoming. He taught high school PE and was assistant football coach and head wrestling coach.  The football team won a state title and several of his wrestlers were state champions and state placers.  For Pizza, coaching was an art and he loved nothing more than to nurture kids to accomplish what they never felt they could.  Ken was very proud of the successes and accomplishments of his wrestlers as they went out into the world. Many went on to wrestle at the college level, become coaches and wrestling officials.  His former wrestlers say he brought out the best in them. They say that they accomplished what only Coach Piazza believed they could accomplish.  They didn’t know they could do what Coach was able to get them to do. Coach Piazza helped mentor and define who many of us are today as far as character, work ethic, and approach to life.  He always had a stack of cards emblazoned “You look like a winner to me” that he would send to athletes and non athletes alike to compliment them on an accomplishment.

Pizza loved sports of all kinds and was an avid fan of the Chicago Cubs and Bears.  Go Cubs!  In retirement he and Jean were always on the hunt for a new adventure as they travelled the world.  They made it to 5 continents, rode camels into the Sahara spending the night in a Bedouin tent camp, went on safari in the South African bush, attended the Rio Olympics, explored Greece, roamed around Europe, hiked Mt. Etna in Sicily, and went to Italy any chance they could get.  Winters were spent basking in the sun on St. Pete Beach. But the best times were spent with his grandkids.  He earned the Wyoming High School Athletic Association Lifetime Achievement Award and was elected to the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame.

Pizza is survived by his loving wife, Jean Piazza of New Prague; sons, Nick (Yulia) Piazza of Cody, WY and Tony Piazza of New Prague; grandchildren, Misha, Mia, Julian, & Camila; siblings, Lou Piazza of Venice, FL, Patty (Chris Farley) Piazza of Redmond, OR, and Dave (Carol) Piazza of Joliet, IL.  He is preceded in death by his parents, Mario & Anne.

Mass of Christian Burial will be held Thursday, July 20, 2023 at 11:00 AM at St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church with Father George Grafsky officiating.  Visitation will take place at church from 10-11 AM.  Mass will be live-streamed on npcatholic.org. Burial will occur at St. Wenceslaus Cemetery followed by lunch at the New Prague Golf Club.

In lieu of flowers the family asks that you make a donation on behalf of Coach Piazza to the Beloit Wrestling Club, a club he founded in the 70s to build up the sport in a community that launched his coaching career and which was always close to his heart. Checks can be made out and sent to:
Beloit Wrestling Club
221 Highland
Beloit, KS 67420
Ken was an incredible guy who helped so many people in his career and we are grateful for the time we had with him.

bruzekfuneralhome.com

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