Editor’s note: Senior Spotlight is a series of feature stories on Milton High School students who graduated with 10 or more athletic letters. This is the first of five stories in the series.
When talking about Tyler Westrick with the head coaches of the football, basketball and baseball programs at Milton High School, one word is repeatedly mentioned: competitor.
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines a competitor as “someone who is trying to win or do better than all others especially in business or sports.”
Arguably one of the greatest competitors to ever don a Milton High School athletic uniform graduated on Sunday and won’t ever play another down, minute or inning as a Red Hawk again.
Yet, the impact Westrick, who achieved the rare feat of being a 12-letter winner, will leave on MHS sports is everlasting. Only five other athletes in the Milton Area Athletic Hall of Fame have earned that many letters at the school, including just one male: Katon Bethay.
“I definitely worked hard for it, but I never expected it to happen because people always told me it wasn’t going to happen,” Westrick said referring to earning 12 letters. “You have to believe a little bit if you’re going to do it.”
Westrick wasn’t conceited. He was a confident and unpretentious competitor, basketball head coach Zach Groelle said.
“He’s a humble kid, who, despite his 12 letters, despite making numerous all-conference teams in different sports, did the right thing and was a good kid,” Groelle said. “He’s the kind of kid that lived his high school experience to the fullest.”
Baseball head coach Ryan Neuenschwander agreed.
“I do remember his ability to lose and lose without throwing his glove into a fence or throwing a batting helmet,” Neuenschwander said. “He was able to do that with grace and win with grace as well. He’s not going to rub it in. It’s just part of the game, and he understands that.”
For Westrick, his high school career was all about having a good time, no matter the sport.
“I always like to have fun,” Westrick said. “I think that’s the one thing I took out of high school sports is that you have to have fun with it because if you’re not having fun, you’re not going to want to be there every day.”
When asked if he had any regrets about his high school career, Westrick said “definitely not.”
“People ask me if I would have specialized (in one sport), if I would have liked it better and been better at one thing … I just tried to enjoy everything,” Westrick said. “I like all three sports just as much as any other one. If I could do it again, I’d do the same thing.”
It’s pretty easy to have fun when you’ve had the athletic success that Westrick had the previous four years. Amongst all the numbers, the most impressive stat might be that Westrick scored 945 points in his career on the MHS basketball team.
If not for a senior season where Westrick missed seven games battling through numerous injuries, including an Achilles injury and bad ankle sprain, he would have broken the 1,000-point scoring mark and been closer to the all-time school mark of 1,295, set by Richie Rusch in the 1970s.
Other males who have gotten to 1,000 points at MHS, according to research done by Wes Sisson in Milton Courier archives, include Lonnie Sherman (1,120) and Bill Rusch (1,004).
“I never thought I was going to be the big scorer that I was senior year,” Westrick said. “Freshman and sophomore year, I realized how difficult it was to score … I’m just glad to be up there with the best scorers in the school.”
The basketball teams Westrick played on totaled a record of just 33-61, including best records of 11-13 both his freshman and sophomore years. However, he was still able to make Badger South all-conference honorable mention as a sophomore, second-team as a junior and first-team as a senior.
Groelle said one aspect of Westrick’s game he will remember the best will be the numerous times he made difficult, contested shots at crucial parts of games.
“Not a lot of kids want to be put in that position where the game is on the line and the ball is in their hand, and all the pressure that comes with it. I think a lot of kids think they want to be in that position, but as soon as they get there, the pressure is too great for them,” Groelle said. “He never lost confidence in himself or his ability, and that’s really hard for high school kids to be wired like that.”
Westrick was able to make enough of a name for himself to go on and play at the collegiate level. Next season, he will be playing for the Edgewood College Eagles in Madison. Although he will not be playing football in college like his father Mike Westrick, a member of the Milton Area Athletic Hall of Fame, he said that while growing up, he did want to follow in his father’s footsteps.
“I think at first I really wanted to be like him and do what he did, and then eventually I just tried to do my own thing, do what I could and just have fun with it,” Westrick said. “He talked about how hard it was, and I just figured I’d have fun and enjoy every second of it.”
Westrick most likely could have played any of the three sports in college, but he said he decided on just basketball about midway through his senior season on the court.
“I visited Edgewood and I liked it right away and I liked the city, so I think that’s really what it was,” Westrick said. “The coaching staff is really nice and I met some of the players, too, and they all said they liked it up there.”
He said he also looked at playing football at schools such as the University of Dubuque (Iowa) and Bemidji State University (Minn.), and basketball at Clarke University in Dubuque.
Over his four-year career on the court, Westrick averaged 11.3 points per game, including an average of 19.1 points per game as a senior.
“I think Edgewood got a steal in him,” Groelle said. “I know how much time he’s going to spend in the gym and I know how dedicated he is to get better. Obviously, he has had success in baseball and football as well, but now that he can concentrate on basketball, I think people are going to see his game continue to develop and get that much better now that he can play it year-round.
“I would never bet against the kid,” Groelle added. “I think he’s going to be successful with whatever he puts his mind to.”
In football, the Red Hawks posted a 17-22 record (including playoffs) through Westrick’s four years. The best season came this past school year when Westrick quarterbacked his team to an 8-3 record overall and a playoff win against Watertown.
The team also tied Monona Grove for the conference title with a 5-1 record after upsetting the Silver Eagles 10-3 in overtime in the last game of the regular season, which Westrick labeled as one of his favorite memories as a Red Hawk.
Westrick earned first-team all-conference honors as a senior after completing 71-of-151 passes for 971 yards and 10 touchdowns with three interceptions. He also ran for 595 yards and nine touchdowns on 129 attempts. As a junior, he earned honorable mention all-conference honors.
“In the two years with me, he gave consistency where you never had to worry about whether he was going to be there,” football head coach Bill O’Leary said. “I love the kid, but he’s not the most enormous human being to walk the planet Earth. He took a pounding but was durable. I knew he’d be there at practice and at every game, and he’d be giving us 110 percent.”
Other than the conference championship, O’Leary said he will remember plays throughout the season where Westrick would escape a sack and make a clutch throw for a decisive first down in the final minutes of the game.
“If you throw those in the other direction, we won’t win and we’re not celebrating conference championships,” O’Leary said. “He made big plays when they were available.
“He’s going to be a tremendous loss to Red Hawk sports,” O’Leary continued. “I wish him the best of luck because he’s going to be somebody that people will be talking about for a long time.”
Lastly, in baseball, the Red Hawks put up a record of 45-43-1 record with Westrick on the team, including a conference-championship season when Westrick was a freshman. The team went 15-7-1 overall and 10-2 in conference for the title.
“As a freshman, I remember him holding up a conference championship trophy at our banquet. I remember thinking this kid is 15 years old and it would be nice to do this again,” Neuenschwander said. “He has this unique ability to be competitive but have fun. He wants to win, wants to get better and wants to work on it, but has fun while doing it. Some kids don’t have that ability to be competitive and they take it too seriously.”
As a sophomore, he hit for a .345 average and got on base at a .506 clip. He knocked in 13 runs and scored 18 on his way to earning first-team all-conference honors as an infielder.
After earning honorable mention all-conference honors as a junior, Westrick was back on the first team as a pitcher this past season. In conference games, Westrick went 3-1 with a 1.53 ERA. In 32 innings, he allowed 13 runs (seven earned) on 20 hits and 12 walks while striking out 24.
“I see a ton of great things (in the future for Westrick), hopefully a lot more memories here from the sports world,” Neuenschwander said. “He’s got a ton of leadership experience, whether he’s a lead guy in a project somewhere or a coach down the road. He’s been through a lot and has a lot of experience that has prepared him for the real world.”