After longtime Central High School Athletic Director Al Warnecke died Friday, Superintendent Kevin Meyer tried to summon the correct response when asked to gauge how much Warnecke meant to the school.
"He was the ultimate Cougar," Meyer said of Warnecke, who had a heart attack Monday and died Friday at age 60. "He was a Central graduate, valedictorian, a great athlete, came back after college to teach here and this was the only place he ever taught.
"He was an absolute institution at this high school and our programs would not be what they are without Al Warnecke."
Meyer said a family member found Warnecke at his rural Breese home Monday after he had an apparent heart attack. He was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital in Breese, then transported to St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Belleville.
He died at 2:15 p.m. Friday at St. Elizabeth's.
Warnecke is survived by his wife, daughters, Sara Timmermann and Jenny Schulte, his parents and other relatives.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Warnecke was the Central athletic director for more than 25 years and also was the school's head baseball coach during the 1980s. He was the longest-tenured athletic director in the Cahokia Conference and for years help compile the league's records, all-conference teams and statistics.
Meyer said Warnecke taught, coached and worked at Central for 39 years and was a member -- and valedictorian -- of Central's first graduating class in 1971.
Warnecke also was an outstanding baseball player who starred in that sport in high school and college.
One of Warnecke's closest friends was former Central basketball coach Stan Eagleson. Warnecke not only attended every game, he also took care of the scorebook duties.
"I'm not sure that Central had too many games in our history that he didn't keep the book at," Meyer said of Warnecke, who also handled college scholarships, fundraising, ticket sales, budgeting, concessions and a variety of other duties.
When Central won the 2012 Class 2A boys state basketball championship, Eagleson knew what it meant to Warnecke.
"He wasn't just a colleague, he as a great friend of mine," Eagleson said. "Just seeing the smile on his face when we won the super-sectional to advance state was great, and then we won that state tournament it was such a great feeling for me.
"When you think of Central, you think of Al Warnecke because he's been there for so long and did such a great job."
During Warnecke's tenure, Central also won three state titles in girls volleyball and one each in girls basketball and competitive cheerleading.
Meyer attended Central and his father was a friend of Warnecke's father.
"Al is the biggest reason I returned to Central," said Meyer, who was working in the Carlyle school district before returning to Central. "He wanted me to re-apply. He liked Cougars coming home and talked to me extensively about coming back to Central."
Eagleson has agreed to help out with some of Warnecke's athletic duties, but also knows the countless hours logged by his former boss through the years.
"He was always there, it didn't matter if it was a varsity game or underclass game," said Eagleson, Central's basketball coach from 1986 to 2013. "He was at all the events and Al would do anything for you. As a coach, you just didn't have to worry about the paperwork or the IHSA rules and regulations. He took care of all of that for us."
Meyer said Warnecke agreed to stay on in his athletic-director role on a part-time basis even after retiring from teaching.
"It was kind of a joke because he never worked part-time," Meyer said. "He was always there."
Meyer said he was overwhelmed by the amount of responses he received once word got out about Warnecke's illness.
"It's been real humbling this week hearing from coaches and athletic directors and administrators from all over the state," Meyer said. "He would help everyone in any way he could. For most of the ADs in the area, they had Al Warnecke to turn to."
Eagleson said Warnecke left his mark on the school and its sports programs.
"He was the best. He made all our jobs at Central a lot easier as coaches, that's for sure."