LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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John Zilla

Position: Middle School Teacher/ Football Coach
School: Independence Middle School
School District: Independence School District
City, State: Independence , WI

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John Zilla was nominated by parent of a student, Tami Keenan

Mr. Zilla is a dedicated teacher and passionate football coach. Keenan has watched him coach her two boys over the years. He has been a mentor, not only to her boys, but to all the students he has taught over the years.

"I was watching the Today Show and saw a teacher being nominated for LifeChanger of the Year; the first teacher that came to my mind was John Zilla," Keenan said. "Kids really look up to him because he is so passionate when it comes to football and the boys."

Less than a year ago, Mr. Zilla underwent heart surgery and took some time off to recover. He had all summer to recover, but was not sure if he would return to coach football in the fall. Luckily, he was healthy enough to return, and his team went undefeated until their last conference game. Mr. Zilla successfully led the team to the second round of playoffs.

"He built this team to what it was through his patience and knowledge of the game," Keenan said. "He always made sure the kids were keeping their grades up so they could play all year round. Coach Z has made such a difference in the lives of these boys."

Mr. Zilla's students put together an an awesome video nomination below.



Comments (32)


Melanie Lewis Posted over a year ago

I have worked with Mr. Zilla for the past four years, and know he is a life changer and game changer. What is his secret? He focuses on people’s strengths and teaches skills to improve weaknesses. Thank you for being a positive work mentor, teacher, and active community member. Independence, Wisconsin is the best place to live because of your influence.

Sara Filla Posted over a year ago

Coach Zilla impacted my life and my game in so many ways. He always pushed me to do my best. I felt very honored to play for him. I can not think of anyone that deserves this award more!

Jayden matchey Posted over a year ago

good job Mr.Zilla

Tayler Lambright Posted over a year ago

Mr. Zilla is my Social Studies teacher. Thanks to Mr. Zilla, I have learned a lot from him. Thank you Mr. Zilla!!!!!

Gavin Bragger Posted over a year ago

I have Coach Zilla for homeroom and 1-hour classes and I do the best in 1-hour. He helped me with homework and always answers questions for you. He has always helped and worked with people that struggle.

Mitchell Halvorson Posted over a year ago

I appreciate how he can inspire his players to work hard and keep going after something happens.

Mason Brugger Posted over a year ago

Mr.zilla is a great teacher and a great friend to all the students and all the teachers too.

8th grade class Posted over a year ago

Mr. Zilla is the best teacher in the world!!!!!!

Rhianna Theisen Posted over a year ago

Way to go Mr. Zilla

Kevin Halvorson Posted over a year ago

Thank you Mr. Zilla for pushing me through every step of the way. From starting off as the bottom of the food chain in 6th grade to being top of the food chain in middle school at 8th grade. You have always strived to make us better and teach us about life. Thank You for being an amazing teacher, friend, and human being!

Kendra S. Posted over a year ago

Mr. Zilla is the most outstanding teacher. He's not only outstanding in class, but generally in life. He underwent heart surgery. Everyone was devasted when we heard about it. He was so strong and brave and anything could have happened when he went into surgery, but he had the whole school for support. I may not have known him for long, but I know that he is the most wonderful, strong, kind, brave, clever person in the world. He tells me, and everyone else that you have to stand up for your learning. He's inspiring. He makes me want to strive for my goals, and I'm sure everyone else is inspired by him as well. This school needs him. Go Mr. Zilla!

Wyatt kuerschner Posted over a year ago

I really appreciate when things aren't going so good we can always look to Mr. Zilla for help and lead us. I also appreciate how humble he is and his positive attitude always helps the situation. I am looking forward to having him as my coach for the next three years also as one of my teachers.

Jamie Bautch Posted over a year ago

I have known Coach Zilla since I was in 6th grade. I had him as a 6th grade teacher, then 4 years as football coach in high school as a player, and for the last 5 years I have worked directly under him as assistant coach for the football program. You have very few mentors in your life and I can proudly say Coach Zilla has been my mentor for last 5 years. He asked me to come coach 5 years ago and I don't think he expected that I would end up being his right hand man at the time. You don't always know the circumstances that will come your way, but when circumstances put Coach Zilla in a position that he had to rely on a young and inexperienced coach he threw his whole trust and support behind and helped get the best out of me as a coach. He saw something in me and helped to support it, which is the true sense of a leader and mentor. He does the same for his players. Being a coach you have the responsibility to be a leader and mentor to your players and teach them how to be great players, leaders, and human beings. As a coach you have to do this for your coaches that work under you as well. Some people have opportunities to be mentors and pass them by or simply don't care. Coach Zilla takes that responsibility on, not because he has to, but because he wants to. He takes that responsibility as a leader very seriously, but he takes pride in helping mentor and improve those that play for him and work for him because he wants to. He is a great leader and mentor for his players and makes kids want to play for him and want to win for him and he makes his coaching staff want to work for him. Coach Zilla has dealt with health issues basically every year I have coached under him as well as heavier work schedule as a teacher making it tougher for him to coach every year. He had his heart surgery this past spring, putting his chance of coaching even slimmer, but I knew if he came out healthy he would still coach as he continues to do every year because he takes the responsibility very seriously to make sure the players have a coach to lead them and be there for them. More importantly he cares for his players and doesn't have the heart to leave them. He is a true leader and a great man who will go to great lengths for his players and his coaches to help them be the best that they can be. There is no one I have more respect for and I couldn't thank him enough for the support he has given me no matter what anyone else thought, he has always stood behind me and made me truly believe in myself as a coach and he does the same for his players. There is not much more significant in young kids lives than youth athletics. It teaches you so much about life and its one of the greatest periods in your life and its important to have great coaches and leaders like Coach Zilla leading these young individuals to help them as they head on to the next part of their lives. He is truly a great man who is a life changer everyday, even when you don't realize it, he is making a difference.

Ziy Posted over a year ago

This is my first year having Coach Zilla. But on the first day of practice, I knew that I would learn so much from him, and I have learned a lot so far. He is the type of person that won't give up on you. For example, he would give me a long talk about how I should not quit basketball when I wanted to. He is the type of person that could bring a smile to your face even if you're having a bad day. He is someone you can depend on. Mr.Zilla is not only a good coach but a good teacher. He truly deserves this award!

Geri Fredrickson Posted over a year ago

I only had Mr. Zilla as a middle school social studies teacher but he was by far my favorite. He motivated me to pursue my dreams and to work hard while doing so. When he coaches football and basketball it is clear that he has put ample time into his teams. No matter how small of a team he pushes them to the breaking point so each athlete (and student) can achieve what they are capable of. Watching him coach is extraordinary because he is so positive and motivated with the players. I will forever remember him in my high school years!

A. Foster Posted over a year ago

Coach Zilla was an awesome friend and coach to my twins while playing football. He was so patient, kind, inspiring and passionate and pushed the kids to give it their all. I always looked forward to Friday night lights with Coach Zilla. He definitely deserves this award! Go Coach Zilla!!

Nicole Filla Posted over a year ago

Mr. Zilla has made me the person and athlete I am today. He has shaped his players into respectful and hardworking young adults. He had the passion and commitment to his teams by fighting through his recovery. Coach Zilla truly has a love for sports and his players. He is the best coach that Independence has ever had and has impacted my life forever. I can not think of anyone else who deserves this award more than Coach Zilla.

M. Simmons Posted over a year ago

I played against Coach Zilla in high school and even then, I couldn’t not call him one of my favorite coaches in the conference. Being a player he coached against, he always made an effort to catch up with me and always rooted for me on when we weren’t playing Indee. He was a coach I looked forward to playing throughout my high school career, and a coach I hope to continue to have a relationship with.

Ashley Kurth Posted over a year ago

I never had Mr. Zilla as a teacher, but I grew up always calling him the dolphin fan. He's a very good family friend of ours and one amazing man. He totally deserves this!

Jeff slaby Posted over a year ago

Believe John first started teaching when I was his student long time ago. He was always very sincere and good at connecting with students.

Jeff Ruhland Posted over a year ago

I have known and worked with John Zilla for the last 32 years in Independence. John graduated from Independence High School in 1979 and has been a pillar of the community for as long as I have known him. He is a dedicated professional who gets the best out of his students, while demanding accountability. John has a passion and drive second to none and is probably the most considerate person I know. As a coach his teams are always prepared and demonstrates the utmost respect for their opponents and the officials. He is one of the main reasons why our school has been selected as the recipient of the Dairyland Conference Sportsmanship trophy 5 of the last 8 years. John also preaches citizenship and his team demonstrates this by giving back to the community, participating every year in the city wide clean-up on Earth day. He also organizes his teams to support our Booster Club by running the Crazy Monkey Obstacle Course during the Ashley For the Arts celebration in Arcadia, WI. As a coach, John has taken his Football team to the play-offs 8 years, while his Girls' Basketball team has won conference 8 times (including 5 in a row). The have won regionals six times under his direction. As a colleague and the Athletic Director, you wish you could clone a 100 of John, he is that important to this school.

Melanie Ovalle Posted over a year ago

Mr. Zilla is a very understanding person. He is a very motivating coach when it comes to sports. A strong person would be a great way to describe him, he never gives up on anyone. He has patience teaching people sports but most of all he makes sure you are doing your best. No matter if you decided to start basketball now, he will teach you how to shoot and play. The main important thing is that he gives you attention when you're in class and teaches very well. If you are having trouble with anything, he will be there to help you. Mr. Zilla is the best coach and teacher anyone could've.

Cassidy Kabus Posted over a year ago

John Zilla has been a coach of mine the past four years. He is incredibly hard working, motivated, and beyond inspiring. He motivates each of his athletes to find the good, be the good, and do the good in all things. When on the basketball court, times get overwhelming and frustrating, but he reminds us when we make a mistake to keep going, not to hang our heads, and strive to do better the next time. He has opened my eyes to how a team is supposed to be. He shows us that no individual can do it alone, instead we need each other to accomplish one goal, and accomplish one dream. By the end of each season, I am reminded that they are not only my team, but thanks to him, we have become a family and I love being reminded of that. He has left an insane impact on our community. He leaves some sort of positivity with each individual he meets and he truly is a "Life Changer."

Jordan Posted over a year ago

Mr. Zilla helps palyers understand the concept of plays. When you have a question, he is the easiest person to ask. You never feel down when he is around.

Dawn Hegge Posted over a year ago

I have known John since high school. He being in a different school, 6 miles from mine. Always kind, very talented, respected athlete, and friend to many. He amazes me still on how he takes a small number of players, and helps them achieve their very best. He is calm, soft spoken, and respected. He brings out the best in every athlete he coaches. Independence is truly blessed, and this man as humble as he is, couldn't be more deserving!

Rae McCann Posted over a year ago

Mr. Zilla made such a huge difference in my grand daughter Erin's school life..... She loved having him as a teacher, he gave her the attention that she needed and made her feel special, even though she was being bullied at school she loved going because John was always there for her.... and even though she has been going to a different school this past 3 years, she still talks about her all time favorite teacher Mr.Z. I would have to agree he's a pretty awesome teacher!!!

Samantha Posted over a year ago

Mr. Zilla was my 6th grade teacher about 13 years ago. Looking back this was the year that school really started to "click" for me. I went from being a C student to an A-B student. This was thanks to Mr. Zillas teaching and extra efforts to make sure students really understood what he was teaching. After this year school seemed to come easy for me. I have always looked at this year as the turning point in my education and thank Mr. Zilla for that. Although I was never an athlete in the sports Mr. Zilla coached I could see how he impacted many students/athletes lives.

Jackie Cooper Posted over a year ago

Mr. Zilla is a superb middle school teacher, and high school football and girls basketball coach. He leads by example each and every day, and words just can’t accurately explain how much my kids respect him both as a teacher and coach.

Samantha Posted over a year ago

Me. Zilla was my favorite middle school teacher. I am now 26 years old and can still remember being in my 6th grade class with him. He was one of the teachers that truly cared about his students. Good luck!!

Tamara nelson Posted over a year ago

Coach Zilla is awesome he coached both of my sons in high school football ! John Z deserves this award!

Allison Bragger Posted over a year ago

Mr. Zilla is a man of his word. He follows through with everything he starts and is always pushing his students along with players to do their best. He isn't only inspiring but has help to mold his players into leaders. I truly believe that he is worthy of this award.

Rick and Cher Schaumberg Posted over a year ago

We have known John for years, not just as a coach, dear friend, and person. He is more then a Teacher and Coach, he is a inspiration to children everywhere! He is not just a teacher he is a person who cares about each and every child that enters that school. His compassion for have children learn and believe in themselves is what he is truly about! Vote Vote Vote for our Coach!