It’s Waunakee Week for the DeForest prep football team and that always meant a lot to Jerry Roelke. The Hall of fame former coach embraced the long-time rivalry in his 50 years at the school.
Unfortunately for those of us who knew and loved the man, he will not be on the sidelines for the latest matchup in the classic rivalry this Friday. Roelke lost his battle with cancer on Oct. 8.
Like thousands of athletes in DeForest, I had the privilege of playing for Roelke. He was a huge influence on me as the person and coach I am today.
Coach was a larger than life figure in the community, especially after leading the Norskies to three straight state championship games from 1980-1982.
I had the privilege of first getting to know coach before I even got into high school. Before coming to DeForest, Roelke was a coach and teacher at Prairie du Chien High School. He was an assistant football coach under my aunt’s father, Paul Bebow.
When I was in middle school, coach Bebow had me take a picture of him in my DeForest football jacket and give it to Roelke. Of course, coach had a good laugh.
Oddly enough later that fall, Prairie du Chien and DeForest played in a WIAA playoff game. The Blackhawks won the game and went on to play for a state title.
When I finally got to high school, it didn’t take long to figure out that Roelke had a bigger than life personality. He grabbed your attention the moment he walked in the room and you listened to every word he said.
In talking to former players, I know coach was a pretty tough guy in his early years, but he had loosened up a bit by the time I put on a Norski uniform. He was tough and stern when he needed to be, but he also knew how to break the tension by saying something funny.
I’m sure I’m not the only one, but I didn’t appreciate what coach did for my teammates and I until after my time on the team was done. He had a huge impact on me.
I’ve had the privilege of coaching wrestling and football for the last 20 years and I constantly find myself saying some of the same things I heard Roelke say all those years ago. I have especially adopted his attitude of working hard but also taking time to make it fun for the athletes.
I also try to be like coach by getting to know my athletes not just on the field but off. Even 27 years after I graduated, Roelke would ask me about my family every time he saw me. He would also bring up some funny story from my playing days like it just happened.
It has been a tough week since coach passed, but working on a story about him, I got a chance to talk to some of his former players and look at past Times-Tribune stories to get a picture of what this great coach was like.
I had no idea that coach’s first game at DeForest ended up in a 0-0 tie with Poynette. I also got a chance to see old photos from the state championship teams. To see him with the championship trophy was special.
Roelke’s legacy will live on for years as former players like myself will try to instill the same values and passion into the next generation.
Thanks for everything you did for me coach. I know you will be right there with the Norski Nation this Friday and enjoying every second of what should be another classic rivalry game.