In 2010, the winners emerged on and off the field

Published on: 12/28/2010

Over the past 25 years of writing about high school sports, I've discovered that it's not so much the wins and losses I've remembered as the people associated with making those things happen.

You forget some and you're embarrassed to be reminded of them and their significance at a later date, and others you couldn't forget even if you tried. Even if they never won a championship in their entire athletic careers, you knew that they were or would become winners elsewhere in far more important endeavors in life.

And the graduating class of 2010 was full of the latter. Not that these people never won anything - in fact, they won a great deal - but it was their dignity and class in losing and their strong attention to the concept of "team" that separated them from others.

Honoring a coach

Track and cross country were loaded with these types of individuals. Heading that group up were the girls distance runners at Homestead who still honor their late coach, Andy Edington, in word and deed with every race and every push toward the finish line.

After the quartet of seniors Caity Bobber and Sarah Miller, junior Keali Bjork and sophomore Lauren Holtz took third in the 3,200-meter relay at the state track meet in June, they all felt that Edington was watching over them even as new coach Victor Vilar gracefully and gently honored their feelings and their memories.

Taking fifth in the same race were Germantown seniors Andrea Sielicki, Mackenzie Erdmann and Lizzie Wendt and sophomore Caitlin Dillon. The trio of seniors, all headed toward high-level educations followed in the footsteps of ground-breaking Warhawks star Kate Lydy, and firmly placed the Warhawks cross country and track program back on the distance-running map.

Whitefish Bay's Megan Palmer had a rollercoaster of a career. It was scarred by illness and injury in the last two years, but she was a state 800-meter champ in track and a leader on cross country teams that won a state title and took two second-place finishes on the rugged grounds of the Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids.

The WIAA Scholar Athlete closed her career quietly in the last race of the girls state track meet, bringing the Blue Dukes 1,600-meter relay home to a fourth-place medal. She was smiling, talking about this one last opportunity with teammates by her side, as her final high school medal gleamed against the second day rain of the state meet.

Another WIAA Scholar Athlete was involved in still another surprising 1,600-meter relay final, with Menomonee Falls' Max Poeske, a throwback four-sport man, at the heart of it.

No 'I' in team

Poeske, who was to still take part in a miraculous run to the GMC tournament title as catcher on the Indians baseball team later that summer, joined fellow seniors Bryan Aldridge, Nick Zeman and Brad Tietyen in moving up an inspired five spots from their trials time to a medal-winning fifth-place finals slot.

Individually, the only one of the group that had a shot at a medal was Tietyen, but the entire Falls boys senior class of 2010 was built around the sturdy concept of "we" as opposed to the more flimsy construct "I." They said after the race that they didn't want to let each other down, that they wanted to finish well.

That idea was even true of two-time state high hurdles champion Matt Widule, who joined Tietyen as the two lead-off legs of the state record-setting 800-meter relay team. The two veterans set the table for newcomers like sophomore Matt Christensen and senior Travis Townsend to take the Indians home with their first state title in their signature event.

Falls coach Mike Burling's heart jumps into his throat when he views the shaky final hand-off between Christensen and Townsend on film, but it beats with exaltation at the final result.

Homestead boys track coach Dan Benson's heart beats a little faster every time senior anchor runner Gabe Genovesi hit the track last spring. Genovesi, a member of the NCAA Division I national champion Akron University soccer team this past fall, set a state record in the 800 meters. He anchored winning 1,600- and 3,200-meter relay teams as the Highlanders won their first state team title in 46 years.

But the long-striding record-setter will more likely be remembered for his sock drives for the needy and other fundraising events for the poor that he poured his seemingly boundless energy into time and again.

Long commute

Passing into the summer, the stories were more sublime, but equally as stirring. That same senior-dominated Falls' baseball team, led by Poeske, pitchers Ben Burns and Adam Rubatt and outfielder Cole Myhra, didn't have enough legs to quite claim the GMC regular season title, but in the first-ever league tournament, the group turned in one thrilling win after another, including a finals triumph over eventual state champion Franklin.

Myhra symbolized the effort by driving between Oshkosh, where he was taking part in practices for the Shrine Bowl football game, and Falls, almost everyday to make sure he didn't miss the tournament.

The team-oriented Falls effort was stymied in the WIAA sectional final by another two-pronged character-driven story as Germantown pitcher Tyler Thicke came off of Tommy John surgery to his throwing elbow (it cost him his entire junior season) to lead an underdog Warhawks team to its first state tournament berth in 24 years.

Coach Parrish Wagner carefully parceled out Thicke's innings throughout the season as to not overtax him and it paid off with a brilliant 2-1 complete game decision over Falls in the sectional final on his home diamond.

Wagner followed that with a character move of his own, as after the state tournament, he decided to close his promising coaching career for the time-being to focus his time on his young and growing family.

That's an action and commitment that truly defines the term "winner."