When the clock hit zero on the scoreboard at Camp Randall Stadium and the DeForest prep football team officially captured the WIAA Division 3 state title, the emotions of a remarkable season came pouring out.
Norski players leapt into the air, coaches hugged each other, the Norski Nation screamed uncontrollably and former players had tears running down their faces. It was a moment many had waited decades for.
The Norskies earned their first state title since 1982 after going a perfect 14-0.
In my 20-plus years of reporting on high school games, it was one of the best moments ever. Not just because I had the pleasure of covering the team from start to finish, but because I’m also a former Norski.
Besides covering one of my former middle school wrestlers, Jackson Hemauer, winning a state title a few years ago, I have never felt emotions like I did when the Norskies claimed the title.
The emotions of the day really hit me as I interviewed coach Mike Minick in a quiet hallway outside the locker room. As I asked Minick if he thought about former coach Jerry Roelke as the seconds ticked away on the game clock, I could not get all the words out and tears started to run down my cheeks.
I could not stop thinking about what Roelke would be saying and doing after the Norskies’ championship victory. The program meant the world to him and he meant the world to his former players like Minick and myself.
Coach Roelke lost his battle with cancer during the season, but his presence was felt all the way to the end. I know he was partying with his former assistant Doug Bartles as they looked down from heaven.
I was able to recover after the emotional interview with Minick and after interviewing some of the players, I was able to join in the celebration with the rest of the Norski Nation.
I can say that in all my years around DeForest sports, I have never seen such community spirit as I did during this run to a state title.
As the Norskies began racking up lopsided victories during the regular season, the excitement of the Norski Nation began to grow. It became evident that this team was special.
The excitement level really started to climb with DeForest’s win over long-time rival Waunakee in the regular season finale. It kept building and building with each playoff victory.
The Norski Nation then came out in droves to Camp Randall for the final game. They were tailgating as early as 6:30 a.m. for the 10 a.m. game. They then came to the stadium by the thousands.
If they could, I’m sure the Norskies would break the state championship trophy into thousands of pieces, because everyone in the community had a role in the winning season. From the fans in the stands to the local businesses who provided meals to the team and held pep rallies, everyone deserves a piece of the trophy.
I want to congratulate the players, a handful of whom I coached in middle school wrestling, and the coaching staff, which included my former teammates Jay Matthews, Chad Yocum, Eric Hamele and Todd Grundahl, on bringing glory back to the program.
Nobody will ever forget the 2019 Norskies, but hopefully less time will pass before we can celebrate another championship season.