By STU SWARTZ
THE GOSHEN NEWS
While participation and attendance numbers might be declining in some communities, high school athletics are still very meaningful to scores in our area.
Boys basketball and football continue to be the biggest moneymakers in prep athletics, but there are 17 other varsity sports at the area’s bigger schools. So, overall attendance for athletics is probably as great as it has ever been.
High school athletics nowadays is truly a family affair, especially for those with multiple student-athletes involved. Mom often has to attend one event and Dad another.
The young men and women involved in athletics can help generate much spirit within their communities and also in the hallways of their schools.
Daniel Heim is a Goshen High School senior who plays football and is a member of the winter cheerleading squad. He may be seen at many GHS events, supporting his friends and fellow students.
“I would like to see even more students at our events,” said Heim. “But, it seems like everyone is so busy these days with homework and working jobs. There are a lot of other activities going on to compete with athletics.
Participating in football and cheerleading has helped, Heim said, with his discipline and time management.
“I try to get to as many events as I can because I enjoy feeling the school spirit it creates,” he said. “I just love being around people and the excitement athletics creates.”
Heim will be attending Manchester College next year.
Keeping up with the Henkes
Bob and Denise Henke of Goshen are among those parents keeping a busy schedule with a pair of three-sport athletes in the family.
Senior son Austin participates in football, basketball and baseball while sophomore daughter Adrienne is in cross country, basketball and track.
“Competition has been so much a part of our lives,” said Bob Henke, who himself was a fleet-footed outfielder in the Goshen fast-pitch softball program at Shanklin Park. “It has been so much fun watching Austin, Adrienne and their teammates. It is a joy for me and Denise to be a part of it.
“No matter what the outcome of the events, win or lose, we talk to our kids about keeping things in perspective. They need to enjoy these times in their lives because the four years go by so fast.
“With both being involved in athletics all year, there are a lot of late nights and scrambling around for meals. There will be times this spring when I go to a baseball game and Denise will be at a track meet.”
Steve Wiktorowski, Jim Jones and Jim Buller are among those who have experienced athletics from all angles — as athletes, as parents and as coaches.
Wiktorowski, who has spent 32 years in education, is now athletic director at Wawasee High School in Syracuse. He formerly was head coach of boys basketball at Fairfield High School and women’s basketball at Goshen College.
“In a suburban setting like Wawasee, athletics means a lot and is often the focal point of our community,” said Wiktorowski. “Being involved in sports, and trying to maintain academics, can be a very emotional time for young people these days. It is a huge part of their lives.
When Wiktorowski was coaching he said he tried to relate to the kids so they could enjoy their experience and teach them the type of values they could carry on later into life.
“There are a lot of good things missing in society today and at Wawasee we try to preach the ‘Warrior Way.’” Wiktorowski said. “We want our student-athletes to compete with class and set example for the younger kids.”
Wawasee consists of students from Syracuse, Milford, North Webster and rural areas in Kosciusko County.
“This is the 45th year for Wawasee and the three communities have come together not only for sports but also for some trying times like a few tragedies we have endured,” Wiktorowski said. “These days, we are competing with a lot of other activities for the time of our students. I feel it is still a privilege to participate in athletics and also support them.”
Living up to influences
Jones, a Goshen High School graduate, has been a teacher and coach for 34 years. He is now the head coach of wrestling at Fairfield and once was head coach of the football Falcons. He also served stints as a football assistant at both Wawasee and Goshen.
“The main reason I went to college was due to the influence of coaches like Ken Mirer in football and John Dechant in wrestling at Goshen High School,” said Jones.
“I try to pass those values on to the athletes I have coached and also my own children.
“Participating in athletics takes up a lot of time these days. Summer is now based a lot on workouts. I try to preach a good work ethic to get through the tough times.
“I figure if a young man can make it through four years of wrestling, he can handle just about anything life has to offer. Now, I’m able to pass on these lessons to athletes whose parents I coached a few years ago.”
Buller, in his 34th year at Bethany Christian High School on the south side of Goshen, has become the winningest boys basketball coach in Elkhart County history. He has seen plenty of changes on the local athletic scene since the late 1970s.
“I read a quote once that athletics doesn’t make a person, but gives someone the opportunity to demonstrate the type of person they want to be,” Buller said. “As life goes on, we encounter a lot of bumps in the road. You are going to win and lose sporting events. There are going to be accidents and health issues. Athletics provides the opportunity to show modesty in victory and how to hold our heads high in defeat. More than being an individual performer, it shows how to fit into a team system.”
Buller enjoys the small-school setting with Bethany drawing students from a variety of communities. He also enjoys forging relationships with those students through athletics and other extra-curricular activities. Including his high-school playing days, Buller has been involved in athletics for more than 40 years.
“I talk to our students all the time about athletics being a fleeting moment in their lives and they need to seize the opportunity to enjoy it and do their best,” Buller said. “When you start conditioning, it seems like a long season ahead but it goes by so fast. The four years provide some special opportunities for our student-athletes.
The days of packed gyms on Friday nights back in the 1960s and 1970s seem to be a distant memory. In this information age, Buller understands, there is just so much else for students and their families to do. There was time, Buller remembers, that coaches, players and fans would meet uptown on Saturday mornings to rehash the game from the night before. Nowadays that is often done on Facebook and Twitter.
While it may not be the same as decades past, sports in a community is still invaluable in Buller’s eyes.
“Still, athletics play a valuable role in our students’ lives,” Buller said. “They can bond a community together and forge lasting friendships.”
Coming this week
Each year in February The Goshen News publishes a special progress edition that is inserted into the daily paper. This year’s edition will be published on Thursday. The theme of this year’s progress edition, as it has been the past couple years, is “Who We Are.” In advance of next week’s publication we will be running articles and profiles we feel capture the spirit of who we are as a community. We hope you enjoy and agree.