Coach Thornton

Jeff Thornton draws up a plan during a Cap City Cougars practice prior to the 2018 WIAA State Girls Hockey Tournament. The Sun Prairie co-op team went on to a state runner-up finish that season, the highest in program history.

Jeff Thornton, head coach of Sun Prairie’s co-op girls hockey team, the Cap City Cougars, announced last week that he was stepping down.

In his five seasons, Thornton led the Cougars to three Badger Conference championships and a 90-24-12 overall record.

“I’ll miss so many things about coaching, but it was the right decision at the right time,” Thornton said in an email to The Star.

Thornton wrote the following letter:

Cougar Families,

It’s hard to believe that it was 5 years ago that I accepted the head coach position – with more than a little trepidation – wondering if my systems would work at this level, who I’d get to be my assistants, etc. Fast forward 5 years and it is amazing to look back and remember some of our achievements together; three thrilling state tournament runs, conference championship banners hung, lots of amazing victories (and some tough losses). With 500+ on-ice events, several dozen trips across the state on a yellow school bus, dealing with the thrilling highs of great wins and successful practices balanced against the tough losses and frustrations of being a head coach these days, I’ve come to a crossroads in my life. But after several weeks of contemplation and discussions with family and friends, I have made the decision to step down as the Head Coach of the Cap City Cougars.

Please understand that this was a very difficult decision for me as I truly cherished working with so many incredible student-athletes over the past 5 years. The decision for me ultimately came down to family and it’s become harder and harder each season to justify being away from home for so often. I will miss SO many aspects of coaching but it’s time to turn the page. It’s time for a new voice and a new way of doing things for the Cougars and I’ll be there to help cheer you on whenever I can. Please be respectful and patient with your new coach – this isn’t an easy job and they are there to help you achieve your goals.

It was a privilege to represent our five member high schools and I would like to thank the school districts for this incredible experience – especially the athletic department staff which helped our team on so many levels.

Special thanks to Eric Nee, Deb Harbort and Mary Jiannacopoulos in Sun Prairie for guiding me through the maze of WIAA regulations and the school district policies and procedures – and for being there for us whenever we needed something.

Without the support of my family, this dream of mine would not have been possible. From my wife’s fight against breast cancer to my daughter’s continuing battle against Type 1 diabetes, life has thrown some challenges our way during this time. Yet they never wavered in their support of my goals and I can never thank them enough for always being there for me.

I was exceedingly fortunate to work alongside some talented and incredible coaches during my term as head coach and our accomplishments on and off the ice can be directly tied to their hard work, commitment and passion. Assistant Coaches Alycia Matthews, Jackie Held and Brenna Weber were wonderful role models for our female hockey players and shared so much of their time and experience with our players – all while being unpaid volunteers. Dan Buss spent a season with us coaching our D and our goalies before starting a new family and settling down. Mike Jager was with us for my entire term, first as an unpaid volunteer and then as our JV Head Coach and Assistant Varsity Coach. Mike’s creative game planning and vast experience were instrumental in our success. Tom Siegel, my right hand man, provided me, and our entire team, with a constant reminder of why we play this game. His infectious attitude and genuine love for the game is evident each time he steps on the ice. His decision to also step away from coaching after this year was certainly a factor in my decision. If you run across any of these coaches please take a minute and genuinely thank them – you have NO idea how much time, energy, commitment and passion they put in behind the scenes to help our players achieve their goals.

I’d also like to thank our families that helped step up when we needed them – from volunteering at our events, to serving on the Booster Club, to donating their time, materials and energy to our causes. Your support of our program and our players made a difference – THANK YOU!

But most importantly, I’d like to thank our players; both past and present. I demanded a lot from you and I want you to know that I am so incredibly appreciative of how you delivered. On the ice we played hard every single game and played the game with discipline, passion, and respect. Off the ice, you raised money for the fight against cancer, volunteered THOUSANDS of hours of your time in the community, helped mentor young athletes – and did it all while maintaining your grades and balancing work, school, and hockey. I probably don’t say this nearly enough, but I am incredibly proud of each and every one of you. I sincerely hope that you are able to take some of the life lessons you learned from hockey (sportsmanship, teamwork, integrity etc.) and apply them to the rest of your lives. If you remember nothing else from your time with the Cougars, I hope you remember that the single biggest factor in your success is how hard you work to achieve it. I look forward to hearing about your triumphs in life as you go out and change the world.

I want you each to know that you have positively impacted my life and I’ll cherish the memories of the time we spent together. I will never forget the thrill of a hard fought victory, the complete awe I felt when I walked into the Coliseum for our first state appearance, or the pride I still feel when I watch one of our players choose to do the right thing.

It was an absolute HONOR to be your coach! Keep the Karma Dog smiling and thrive. Go Cougs.

– Coach Jeff

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