When your father is your coach

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Todd Mishler | June 17, 2016

“Success is measured by happiness, not possessions.”

Rodney Wedig's words apply equally to life and the athletic arena. Stateline area men echoed those sentiments as CSI Media celebrates Father's Day through their unique perspectives of coaching and parenting their children — some of the latter also contributing their input.

Wedig has spent the past two years at Beloit Memorial after 11 at Big Foot, having coached all five of his kids in youth and/or high school sports.

Triplets Kelsey, Kayleigh and Jacob, along with Gus and Matthew, played T-ball for their dad. The girls also competed in basketball and track, while the boys have taken direction from their father in track and football.

Needless to say, mastering that delicate balancing act provides interesting situations and challenging scenarios.

“Sometimes it is a tougher adjustment for the kids than for me, because me as a coach is a little different than me as a dad,” Wedig said. “I'll never forget, coming into Jake's freshman year, we were at a 7-on-7 (event) and he threw an interception. As he came off the field I was asking him what he saw, and he kind of blew me off and was walking by. So I grabbed him by the shoulder and reminded him that this was his coach asking, not his father. You can blow off the dad question, but never the coach questions.
Other than that you get the highs of sharing their successes, but also the pain of sharing in their losses and defeats.

“It is tough because you want to treat them just as you would any other athlete, and I really tried to do that,” Wedig added. “But at the same time, if you are the coach and a player is at the free-throw line with a chance to win the game, you are nervous. If you are a parent and it's your kid, you are really nervous. And if it's your player and your kid, you are really, really nervous. Yet if they make it, as a coach you are proud, as a parent you are very proud and as a coach and parent you are crazy excited.”

Cristian “Gus” Wedig said there can be plenty of ups and downs in such familial relationships, but he understands it from both points of view.

“We always talked about how Dad was too hard on us or that he did something during either my sisters' basketball practices or mine and my brothers' football practices,” Gus said. “After one of my basketball games my freshman year, he was reffing and I said something he didn't like and gave me a technical foul. It was a shock, but he didn't care whether or not I was his son or not, and I think it was because I was his son that he gave me one just to put me in my place. Whereas if a father in the stands didn't like what his son was doing during the game, he'd yell or talk to him after the game. But not my dad, he just ended it right there on the court. So dinner that night was awkward, needless to say.

“With Dad being our football coach, I don't think he remembered we were his sons sometimes,” added Gus, who plays football at Minnesota-Duluth. “That was good because it showed our teammates that he wasn't trying to put us ahead of anyone just because we had the same last name. We had to work just as hard, if not harder, than the other kids. I think we worked harder because my dad was such a hard coach to all players, but to the Wedig kids he gets to see how hard we work every day.”

“We didn't spend a lot of time at home talking about player-coach type stuff unless it was just pointing out something while I was watching film,” Coach Wedig said. “We actually spend more time around the dinner table talking about our backyard or games in the driveway that we just make up. That's when we really get after each other.

“But now most of it is either talking about some of the most memorable moments or Jacob reminding everyone he has a championship ring, then Gus reminding everyone he was All-State and then everyone picking on Kelsey for being the shortest and Kayleigh for not being able to play racket sports or her bad hand-eye coordination; rumor has it she struck out in kickball in PE class. And Matthew jumping in and saying he was all-conference his freshman year, followed by Gus reminding him it was for punting.”

As with many other sports-oriented families, sibling rivalries can be the most competitive. But Gus said the Wedig kids have remained fairly grounded.

“The technical foul story is the funniest story for sure,” Gus said. “Another funny story was now that me and my older siblings — Kayleigh, Jake and Kelsey — graduated and have either gone or are going to college, we see the difference between how he treats us compared to baby brother, Matthew. We think Dad has gotten soft with Matthew, but don't all older siblings think that the baby sibling gets it easier?”
Regardless, coach/parent and child/athlete have learned valuable lessons along the journey.

“The most important thing I've learned is to never feel entitled … just because your dad is your coach,” Gus said. “As far as football goes, I can't give enough credit to what he has done for me. I wouldn't be a college football player. I can't thank him enough, and my way to repay him is to try and make him proud at the next level.”

“The thing I have learned most from coaching my kids is that there isn't a lot of difference between being their coach and being their parent,” Wedig said. “In both cases, you want them to work hard, use their talents, be a good person and try to succeed. That is what I love about high school sports. As coaches we are judged in the outside world by wins and losses, but I have always brought my father card, something I learned from my father, into coaching. It's great to win, but at the end of the day I want my kids and my players to work as hard as possible, never give up, fight through adversity and keep their eyes on the prize. Because you never want to start a story as a 40-year-old with 'I could have.' You want to start that story with 'I did.'”

The games of football, life

Bill O'Leary coached and/or taught in the Janesville School District for 35 years. However, he said nothing can match his final three-season run as head football coach at Milton High School, which ended this past November.

That's because he got to coach his son, Patrick, both helping the Red Hawks to three straight WIAA playoff berths.

“It was an unbelievable experience, and to see him become a team captain and earn unanimous all-conference and everything was so rewarding,” O'Leary said. “But the most rewarding of all, like with my daughters — Mary Kate, 23, and Elizabeth, 21 — I'm most proud that he's become a good person.”

Patrick, who will play football at UW-River Falls starting this fall, said he's taken his father's lessons to heart.

“He taught us to always give it our best at all times,” Patrick said. “And that carries over into leadership situations, and that's on and off the football field.”

Father and son laugh about it today, but those ideals received a little reinforcement on the first day of practice last August, when Patrick's nap after working at Oak Ridge Golf Course lasted a tad too long.

“I was late on the first day of practice as a senior captain, so he roasted me pretty good,” Patrick said. “I knew I wasn't going to get any special treatment from the beginning.”

“He arrived five minutes late,” O'Leary said, “and he saw the look on my face and he knew. It was important to show the rest of the team that even though he was a senior captain and my son, that he would get no favors. So he had to do the punishing run after practice, and he was never late again.”

Both agreed that the lines between coach and father can be tricky, but they said they've found a good balance.

“It involves two different personalities and sometimes issues carry over, but we have kept father and son and coach and player separate pretty well,” Patrick said.

“One of the things I've always tried to do is not let (coaching) inside the hallowed halls of our home,” O'Leary said. “I just tried not to put too much pressure on him because he already had enough as the coach's kid. But as with all of my players, sports taught him important lessons and prepared him for life's experiences, because things don't always turn out the way you want them to.”

However, one thing did. They will be on the same sideline at the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association All-Star game in mid-July.

“I got to watch him as a ball boy when he coached in the game in 2009, but this time I'll be a player, and even though I'll be a tight end and he'll be coaching the defensive line, we can share this more as father and son.”

“He's lucky I'm not coaching tight ends,” O'Leary said jokingly. “When we got the news that we would be at the All-Star game, I was so excited. Win or lose, it will be an unbelievable conclusion to his high school career.”

Soccer is in their genes

Longtime Janesville Craig soccer coach Bill McCabe began tutoring his son, Garrett, at age 6 through the YMCA. That bond has grown ever since, and today the son leads the Cougars boys team while the dad directs Craig's girls squad.

“It broke my heart that first year to see my 6-year-old just following the rest of the herd of sheep, as we used to refer to all the players that stayed in a pack and chased the ball,” McCabe said. “So I decided to get involved. I never had that same team the three years that I coached at the Y because I wanted to take all the kids that weren't attached to a team and show them what a little coaching could do for them.”
Garrett moved onto the Madison 56ers program and made the premier team.

“He received good coaching in Madison, but it was a little difficult for me because I began co-coaching my daughter Dana's U12 team with Dave Schansberg,” he said. “Dana played with her Janesville United team until she was a U15 player and was given an opportunity to play for the 56ers. It was an extremely difficult decision to take her to Madison because our team just won the league … but my days of coaching my daughter were over, except for the countless hours in the backyard working on her skills.”

While Dana eventually earned a two-week trip to play in Denmark and Norway, Garrett's travels took him to a traveling team out of Brookfield and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which he attended from 2003-'07.

“Practices were almost always at the Uhlein Soccer Park on the north side of Milwaukee … so it goes without saying, we had untold miles on the road together. And that's where we formed the strong bond that we still have today.”

Garrett said their relationship always has been strong and one he continues to cherish.

“My dad and I always have had a really good relationship when it comes to soccer and sports,” he said. “It was obvious from a really young age that he wanted the best for me in my athletic career. He taught me about work ethic and showed me that you need to be dedicated to the things you are passionate about in life, because the things you want don't always come easy.

“This honestly was never difficult for me as a kid because I've always looked up to him and cared about his opinion,” Garrett added. “I've modeled who I am as a coach, and now a father, after everything I've learned from my dad.”

The teacher deflects a lot of the credit back to his special students, knowing he has learned as much or more from his kids.

“I think I was always harder on them than I was on other members of the team,” McCabe said. “I simply expected more from them, but they responded in positive ways. I don't remember having to yell at my kids when I coached because they understood the sport well enough that it really made it easy for me, sort of an unspoken understanding between father/coach and children. The thousands of miles we traveled together is something that I would wish everyone to experience.”

And since his son has joined the coaching ranks, McCabe has gotten a different and better look through that coach/parent lens.

“I'm proud to say that I appreciate, more than he knows, that he allows me to be the boys freshman coach,” he said. “For about 10 years, Garrett has been at my side as an assistant with the girls team. He doesn't get to spend as much time as we would like with me because he now has a 4-month-old baby, but he's put in enough time that I think I can give him a break for a year or two. That way he can bank his spare time with his wife and baby and be ready to go in August when the boys season begins.

“Dana and Garrett have never been afraid to tell me if they think I'm messing up in some manner. If I'm not pushing them hard enough, if they think I need to change the formation, give more playing time to players that show well in practice or anything else they feel would improve the team, they let me know in a New York minute,” McCabe added. “I don't always take their advice, but I know I can always go to them to get an honest opinion.

“I'm not sure if Garrett calls me to ask for advice because he really needs it or he's just humoring the old boy.' I like to think it's because he really needs my opinion, and if he does I feel comfortable knowing that maybe I did teach him a few things over the years. As I watch him on the sideline, I envy his knowledge of the game. He's forgotten more than I'll ever know. I couldn't be prouder of the individuals my children have become, and I like to think that I was a part of building their character.”

One would get no complaints from Garrett.

“You have to be passionate about the things in life that you love, and in this case coaching,” Garrett said. “He is the most selfless and caring person there is and it shows when he is coaching. The kids mean everything to him and there isn't anything he wouldn't do for them. He's taught me that it isn't wins and losses that people remember, it's the experience.    

“It means everything to me,” Garrett said about joining his father's profession. “I knew as a little kid that I wanted to be just like my dad when I grew up. As a coach I am able to teach kids the same lessons that I learned from my dad when I was their age. I wouldn't trade the opportunity to coach with him at Craig for anything.”
Hoops dreaming

Kerry Storbakken has coached daughters Whitney, 25, and Taylor in softball, basketball and soccer since as early as first grade. The former Milton and current Craig girls hoops coach was on Cougars' staff when Whitney played varsity basketball and was in his first year as head man for Taylor's senior campaign.

“Coaching your daughters is a unique experience,” Storbakken said. “You have to strike a balance between dad and coach, and with high school girls, sometimes one of those roles alone can be a challenge. I have to admit that I was lucky in that regard.  My girls usually took advice and tips pretty much to heart and knew that I just wanted them to be successful.”

And he has enjoyed having Whitney join the Craig staff.

“Having her on the bench has been valuable,” he said. “She is a quiet young woman with a good understanding of the game. So when she does speak up and give input, we usually listen. She also is close enough to her own high school experience to know what the girls are feeling and can be more in tune with that side of coaching. I also have someone to bounce ideas off, and we can sit up for hours after each game replaying it, strategizing and planning for the next game.”

Storbakken said getting to that point still took a lot of trial and error, but he and his daughters have learned a lot from each other on and off the court.

“I always have tried to be the coach while at practice and in games and the dad at home,” he said. “Most coaches would agree that it is difficult not to be a little harder on your own kids, because we expect a lot out of them in school, in sports and in life. But my girls always knew me in some sort of coaching role and learned to understand that it could be a tough spot. If I got after Taylor in a game, it was because I wanted the team to be successful, and she knew that. Again, the focus on the development of team success helps a lot with that.

“But I have learned to enjoy every moment with them,” Storbakken added. “The years that kids participate in sports can go by quickly and there are opportunities to create memories that you just cannot miss. I've learned to focus on teaching all of the players to be leaders, role models and how to work as a team. My chance to spend quality time with my daughters just happened to be on a basketball court. Our time together still revolves around sports, whether it's Craig basketball, Badger or Packer games or traveling to tournaments as a family with the high school team. We always have enjoyed the families and friendships as much as the games.”

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