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Semi-pro football coming to area

Diehl bringing 'organization, not just football team'

SEE YOU IN THE SUMMER - Derek Diehl is bringing semi-pro football to the area in the summer. The Lake Geneva Generals will play their games Saturday nights, and right now Williams Bay High School could be their home stadium. Check future editions of the Regional News for more. On Oct. 23, the Generals are holding a golf outing at Hawk's View. It's a two-man scramble where players bring only one club and a putter. The 18-hole, best ball format is $40, which includes free beverages, a cart and green fees. There will be prizes as well. "We wanted something low key and not too serious," Diehl said. "We don't want just good golfers, we want everybody. We want to expose the Generals to Lake Geneva."
October 13, 2010 | 08:44 AM
The Armed Forces have a special place in Derek Diehl's heart.

And that may be an understatement. The 37-year-old Burlington resident was in the Army for eight years, his grandfather fought his great-grandfather in World War II. Both were pilots, one for Germany and the other for the U.S.

But, Diehl's other passion is football. Now, the former college and semi-pro fullback has found a way to combine his two loves into one concept — the Lake Geneva Generals.

A military-themed squad all the way down to the striped helmets and camouflaged jerseys, the Generals will be a AAA semi-pro football team representing the Geneva Lake area.

Diehl, the team's owner and defensive coordinator, found his way to Lake Geneva after an exodus from the Burlington Blue Devils. A starting fullback for Burlington in 2009, Diehl decided to give up his playing career after the season. But this past spring, the Milwaukee Venom came calling and made Diehl a coach.

However, Diehl's semi-pro roots are in ownership. The former owner of the Washington County Patriots wanted to get back into owning a team. So in August, when Derek and his wife Jeni were holding a raffle for a scooter at the 2010 Iron Bowl in Wauwatosa, Diehl started thinking about his opportunities. He thought what better place than Lake Geneva?

"With Lake Geneva, we know we made the right choice," Derek said. "Summer is huge in Lake Geneva. There is a great community with great businesses. We already joined the Chamber of Commerce. I travel through here all the time on my way to work in Walworth, and I know that it will support a football team."

Diehl made his way to Burlington after living in Kansas after his army service. His company transferred him to its base in Middleton, and it eventually branched out to Walworth. Jeni attended grade school in Burlington before moving to Minnesota.

Derek already is working overtime to get out the word. With himself and players already helping out at Oktoberfest and the recent classic car rally, that word is being heard loud and clear. After only two months, Derek said businesses and players have contacted him and are on board.

Derek submitted a proposal to play home games at Badger High School, but according to Derek, Badger wasn't ready at this time. It wasn't long before Williams Bay athletic director Mike Coolidge came calling. Derek said there is a proposal at Williams Bay that would have the Generals play their home games, Saturday nights starting in June, at Williams Bay High School. While nothing is final, Derek said the Bay is the "leading candidate" to host the squad. And Derek said it doesn't matter if it's in Lake Geneva or not.

"It's a good location," Derek said. "Lake Geneva to us is the surrounding communities, all the schools areas, Big Foot, Williams Bay, Fontana, Pell Lake, you name it. If you're on the lake or close by the lake, we're interested. I'm excited about it. I already have some concepts about our first game."

Coolidge said the Williams Bay School District must approve the proposal before games can be played there.

Diehl is hoping to join the Ironman Football League, home of the Blue Devils and Milwaukee and Madison-area squads. While Derek isn't sure what league his team will compete in, a natural rivalry would occur with the Blue Devils.

Derek is a former Blue Devil player and coach, and Pell Lake resident Russ Hayes, Burlington's first head coach back in 2005, will lead the Generals and will double as the offensive coordinator. Derek has convinced former Blue Devils to play for him, and Diehl is the godfather for Burlington linebacker Tino Luciano's child. When Derek was Burlington's offensive coordinator, the Blue Devils scored the second-most points in the league and lost in the Iron Bowl.

Hayes has children who go to Badger High School, and he is a great coach according to Diehl.

"Russ and I remained in contact since we were together in Burlington," Derek said. "We stayed friends, and I needed somebody that I can count on. He's from the area and is a great leader."

As far as owning, Derek believes the team must take small steps, and the wins will come.

"I want to promote loyalty and a team concept with my players," he said. "What will separate us is we are a football organization, you will have ownership. We are more of a club, you're a member, your word counts and you're valued. Unlike other Semi-Pro teams, everyone will be a part of this. Each player and other member are needed, and we're not just a football team."

Derek said the competition level is very high, with many former college and pro players on semi-pro teams.

"I've played with professionals, arena players, college players, and there isn't much difference in abilities," he said. "Kevin Barrett, a receiver for the Blue Devils, could wow someone in the NFL on any given Sunday. He has what it takes."

While the roster won't be finalized until January and February tryouts, Derek said he's already received local interest from players just by hanging out at the YMCA. He said a recent college player is interested and so are some of his friends. And he said the Generals theme will be displayed on the field.

"The uniforms will be cutting edge," Derek said. "There are sublimated camouflage jerseys with black helmets that have stripes and stars. I couldn't be happier about it."

Even in his first year, Derek has high hopes.

"With all of the solid area athletes, I believe we'll compete for a championship every year," he said. "We want to be the franchise of the year right away.

And Derek made it clear that the commitment to the Generals won't occupy all of a player's time.

"I like to call Lake Geneva the mini Wisconsin Dells," Derek joked. "What's important is when you get here, it's how things develop in your life. If this is where you spend your weekends, we're happy to have you. We absolutely want local guys. It's a smaller commitment. It's something you should do because you want to, not because you have to. Whoever shows the dedication is welcome. If someone drives from an hour away, that's a guy who wants to be here. It proves they're committed."

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