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A season to celebrate, a reason for hope

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October 29, 2013 | 01:21 PM
Derek Diehl is a builder.

From 2008-2011 the once-proud Williams Bay football team didn’t record a single victory. They haven’t made the post-season since 2003.

Last year, when the Bulldogs beat Kenosha Christian, the victory was minimized by naysayers who said they hadn’t beaten a real high school football team.

Marquette basketball coach Al McGuire used to lineup winnable games in the preseason to build up the team’s confidence. Taking a page out of McGuire’s book, Diehl knew he needed to beat someone to start a winning tradition.

When you’ve lost so much, any W is better than no W.

When the Bulldogs beat Kenosha Christian again to open this season, doubts still lingered.

Then they won their first conference game in five years by burying Johnson Creek 45-20. Then they won another conference game and, for awhile, led the division.

True, Diehl is blessed with a stud quarterback, the 230-pound John Higgins, but it took more than that to build a team and still more to build a tradition.

Higgins carried the load at the beginning of the year, but as the season went on more and more players got their names on the stat sheet.

Diehl’s kick coverage teams have been porous. That may have lost them a few games or at least made them closer than necessary.

But Diehl was playing freshmen on those squads. He had a plan. Give the freshmen experience — even if it was a baptism of fire — and it’ll pay off in years to come.

So why isn’t this column on the sports page?

Because Diehl’s building program is more than just about sports.

There were a few games where he could have blamed the referees or injury or bad luck. Football is an emotional game and it’s difficult not to buy into those emotions.

Diehl refused. He didn’t want his team making excuses, so he didn’t either.

I interviewed him after one emotional game but Diehl measured his words — backing the refs and refusing to point fingers.

A real powder keg exploded a few weeks later when the crowd went nuts on a few calls, but Diehl was man enough — after looking at the film — to acknowledge that those calls were far from clear-cut, even if the fans thought otherwise.

A team of young impressionable kids could easily have caved to negative emotions. But Diehl led and they followed.

He wanted a team of class acts, not whiners.

“We are not only teaching football,” Diehl said at one point. “(We’re) teaching the boys how to be good men.”

The Bulldogs ended up 4-5. A losing season, but three more victories than they had in the previous five years combined.

Even in the last game of the season, after falling behind 22-7 in the third quarter, the Bulldogs fought back and almost pulled it out.

Maybe next year.

At least now there’s reason to look forward instead of behind.

The Badger and Big Foot football teams made the playoffs again this year.

We wish them luck, and I don’t mean to diminish their efforts in any way.

But it’s nice to see that a group of new winners may be on the horizon.

I’d like us to have the challenge of splitting our playoff coverage three ways instead of just two.

Halverson is editor and general manager of the Regional News.


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