Todd Brawner was a hard-charging former relay runner for Germantown coach Jack Stiever in the 1980s and friend of the Warhawks’ late coaching and officiating legend Bill Pohland.
He went on to build a track empire at his alma mater in 20 years of coaching, including a run of seven North Shore Conference triple crowns from 1999-2008 (24 separate meet championships overall).
His athletes won several individual state track titles, and the Warhawks were fixtures near the top of the team standings at state for years.
Along those lines, Brawner and his Germantown team happily accepted the WIAA D1 team runner-up trophy in 2006 behind apparent champion Oak Creek.
They did it on the strength of an eyelash win from Marcus Wallace in the 200 dash and then an astonishingly dominant effort by the Warhawks’ Wallace-anchored 4 x 400 relay with a time that was then the second fastest in state history (3:17.37)
“We were ready to run fast that weekend,” Brawner said in a bit of understatement.
In short, after posing for pictures on the UW-La Crosse infield, there was little for Germantown and Brawner to do except celebrate another successful season.
Little did they know, that a month later the Warhawks would be swapping that runner-up piece of hardware for its state championship counterpart, the first for Germantown since the legendary Pohland-coached Wilbert Henry led Class B champs of 1972.
That’s because in January 2006, when triple jump state recordholder Victor Reynolds and Robert Lee transferred from Bradley Tech to Oak Creek, their paperwork was not in order. Reynolds had all but secured the state title for the Knights by repeating as triple jump champ as well as winning the long jump, taking second in the 100 dash and helping the 4 x 100 relay take second.
But the Oak Creek/Franklin Joint School District was interested in how the transfers occurred and conducted its own investigation. On July 10, the district issued a terse bombshell of a press release explaining that both Reynolds and Lee’s transfers were not done according to proper procedures and that it was relinquishing Oak Creek’s state track championship.
According to the statement: “There were students (Reynolds and Lee) who did not have proper documentation necessary for registration as a transfer student and proper procedures were not followed to ensure residency and eligibility in accordance with board policy and WIAA rules.
“As a result of an investigation, the schools district is surrendering the boys 2006 state track championship trophy, returning it to the WIAA, and will be notifying all schools affected by the ineligible track athletes so that scores can be adjusted accordingly.”
Further Reynolds was ruled ineligible for 365 days from all sports. He had been expected to be a major factor for the then high-powered Oak Creek football team the following fall. Curiously, just a week after the school district’s announcement, Knight football coach Joe Koch stepped away from his position for personal reasons.
Later that summer, the polite, well-mannered, highly-talented Reynolds moved to Texas to live with his uncle and sadly disappeared from Wisconsin athletic view. I sincerely hope that life for he and Lee has improved dramatically from those sad days.
Then WIAA Deputy Director Dave Anderson (he is now Executive Director) praised the Oak Creek-Franklin District for its swift action.
“I give all the credit to the school district administration for their leadership and courage to take the gloves off and dive into this thing,” he said. “I mean their reputation and a sense of trust were at stake here.”
A few years later, the WIAA implemented stricter transfer rules after a run of similar issues across the state. And to this day, the transfer issue continues to dog Wisconsin high school sports in some respects, particularly in the high profile sport of basketball.
Meanwhile, Brawner and his Warhawks were now trying to take in the concept that after the team scores were adjusted, that they had edged Green Bay Preble, 39-38, for the 2006 state D1 team title.
They too were pleased with Oak Creek’s honesty in how it handled the manner.
“They went up and did the right thing.,” Brawner said then. “They did this and rewarded the kids who did things correctly. The vast majority of schools do things the right way. Even with our great runs in track and football, we work our tails off and make sure everything is on the up and up and if there is a question, we call the WIAA.
“All I want to do is the right thing for the kids.”
14 years in the rear-view mirror, the situation is still a bit confusing for all those involved.
Jared Foerch, who was on that amazing 4 x 400 (he would anchor another Warhawk championship relay a year later), said recently: “That (the team title) was weird because it never really felt like we won the meet. At least for me.”
Foerch would later come back home and become coach of the still successful Germantown program.
Also looking back, Brawner said he felt that Preble was the best overall team in the state that year but has no regrets about that championship.
“During those years we wanted to be competitive/top five every year,” he said. “So it was a matter of putting ourselves in the best possible position every season. In 2006, the points fell right for us but we had several capable teams from 1999-2007. I knew there could be issues with the OC transfers but at the time we were 100 percent doing our thing. No distractions.
“The actual state title was and is a big deal. The entire story behind it all is still not really known. …(But) year after year the GT kids did everything the right way and in the end did earn their state championship.”
A TIGHT FIT
Brawner went on to serve as an assistant for rival Homestead for five years (2009-13) including on the Highlanders’ team title squad of 2010 before spending time as head coach for the Homestead boys.
His old pal, former Homestead head coach Dan Benson, also had his moment in the sun at that 2006 state meet, albeit a bit uncomfortably!
The boys D1 4 x 100 was wide open that year, no clear favorite, and Benson thought his unit, particularly anchored by swift WIAA regional 100 dash champion Brandon Winters, had as good a chance as any to take it.
But Winters pulled up with a leg injury in the sectional 100 throwing the Highlanders for a loop. But Benson, who would still be the coach when Homestead won the team title in 2010, proved resourceful. He knew he had speed elsewhere on the relay and so gambled and put reliable, but not quite as fast senior Andrew Suhr on the anchor.
And in astonishing fashion, the plan worked. The idea was for fellow Highlanders Ray Daniel, Brian Gensrick and Andrew Handeland to stretch their relay legs as far as was legal and try to give Suhr as much of a cushion as possible.
Adding further incentive for this group, Benson had promised the guys that if they won, that he would try to fit himself into an old Homestead speed suit as a reward.
“Suhr was a very dependable utility sprinter,” Benson said recently. “11.5 or so in the 100. We had him getting the baton with about 92 meters to the finish.”
As for concerning the speed suit?
“At some point on Friday night (after the trials) I said the only way you’d catch me in a speed suit is if you guys win,” said Benson.
“Well …You know the rest of the story (laughs).”
On Saturday, the Highlanders gave Suhr the baton with a five-meter lead and he still had two meters on the field at the finish line.
Suhr was stunned at his new found fame.
“This has everything to do with God’s blessings and these fine gentlemen beside me (pointing to his teammates),” he said afterward. “They put me in a spot where I could finish and finish well. They mean so much to me now.”
As Benson, who famously did squeeze uncomfortably into that speed suit later on Saturday, said at the time, this would be “a story told and retold.”
SCHULTZ FINISHES HER 4 X 2
And there were many other happy stories like that. Holmen senior Joanna Schultz was finishing her grand tale, as she became the first girl in state history to win not one but two events four years in a row when she claimed the D1 200 and 400 titles.
Coming off her injury plagued junior year, Schultz was pleased with how things finished up as she accepted the loud and long adulation of the record-setting crowd at Veterans’ Memorial Stadium. Schultz, who would go on to have a successful collegiate career at Notre Dame, was elated at the crowd’s response.
“I wanted that feeling,” she said. “I’ve seen it before. Time has gone by so quickly. I thought my freshman year was a fluke (when she set the then state 400 record) and now here I am three years later. It is the greatest thing in the world to run and not feel pain.
“I really don’t think this will sink in for awhile so I’ll just tell all the little girls out there that you can do this too. You too can fun running fast.”
Many in her wake have followed that very sound advice as rising talents started to cement their own legacies.
NO SOPHOMORE SLUMPS HERE
Two of those who were listening attended the northwest side Milwaukee suburb Brown Deer. Kaya Senaya got her feet wet when she won the girls D2 100 dash as a freshman in 2005 and used that experience to take her performance up several notches in 2006.
She knocked down divisional records in both the 100 and 200 dashes, which took some doing as Kris Eiring of New Holstein had held both those marks for a remarkable 24 years.
“I’m finishing the season strong,” Senaya said in a bit of understatement. “I saw the competition, I knew I had a chance, but I never thought I’d get both records.”
Later that summer, Senaya turned in a spectacular 11.86 100 dash at the USATF Junior Nationals, which was at the time, the second best ever.
On the boys side, Senaya’s sophomore teammate Justin Austin too had gained powerful experience on Brown Deer’s record setting 4 x 200 relay in 2005. And he wasn’t about to let Senaya upstage him.
He came to the D2 state meet as a relative unknown and left a star, as he beat favorite Jimmy Thompson of Hayward for the 100 title, ran the second leg on the D2 record-setting 4 x 100 relay and then to finish things off won the 200 in an all-classes best of 21.89.
All that helped Brown Deer, which also got a title in the 300 intermediate hurdles from Isiah Gray, take a strong second to Ripon in the team standings.
Austin relished flying under the radar at this meet.
“We really didn’t post any times during the season,” he said. “So when I beat him (Thompson) no one knew I was, but we’ve been improving all season long so I definitely didn’t feel like an underdog.”
Austin had everyone’s attention now, and he would wear the favorite’s tag well his remaining two seasons.
Also avoiding the sophomore slump was Paul Annear of Richland Center, who won the second of what would be four D2 high jump titles with an impressive clearance of 6-8. His effort though, was only the third best of the entire meet as Matt Fisher of Green Bay East won the D1 title at a stratospheric 6-10 while Pat Nichols of Watertown was close behind at 6-9.
In fact, one could argue, that this was the best state high jump competition in meet history, as in D1 four athletes cleared 6-8 and another four went over 6-6, which in most seasons contends for a title and on several occasions has earned a trip to the top of the podium.
Annear would also show no let up in the following seasons and he would also sharpen up his skills in the long and triple jumps as well.
Megan Rennhack of Dodgeland didn’t win a title in 2005 as a freshman, but in her sophomore year she took second in the D3 100 highs and then won the first of what would be three straight 300 low hurdle crowns starting her drive towards becoming the most dominant hurdler in the division’s history.
STARTS AND FINISHES
*And also in D3, freshman Aileen Lemanski of Florence would start her turn at becoming the most dominant long jumper in the division’s history with her first title.
*But the most dramatic turn in D3 girls competition, was the odd triple crown turned in by Hannah Gronning of Shell Lake. She won the shot and the discus (for the second time) with sound efforts, but then this tall, well-proportioned woman among girls also ran a leg on the Lakers’ victorious 4 x 100 relay too.
It was both the expedient and necessary thing to do, said Gronning as the Lakers had only nine girls on the team this season.
“Actually we have a lot of new faces out this year,” said the junior, “and it was nice that they asked me to run it (the relay). We’ve made a lot of improvements as a team and I thought it would be fun if we could win that too.”
It would not be the last time Gronning would step into the role of being such a flexible and effective teammate.
*And flexibility, stamina and humor were a necessity for repeat D1 girls high jump champion Erynn James of Brookfield East. She had surgery on both her ankles in the off-season and then had to endure a 12-leap jump-off to defend her title.
When asked afterward what advantages she might have had heading into the finals, she said with a not quite straight face and a laugh: “I hoped that the others might be intimidated.”
*And to show how quickly things were happening in the sprint relays, Lakeside Lutheran had set a new record of 49.72 in the D2 4 x 100 in 2005, but saw that record broken not once but twice in 2006, as University School ran a 49.62 in the trials on Friday and then Catholic Memorial won the title on Saturday with an even faster 49.38.
The Arcadia boys also showed that moving up from D3 to D2 would not slow down their record of success either as they set a new D2 4 x 400 record with a ripping 3:21.67 time.
Two other relay records set included Milwaukee Vincent taking down the eight-year old D1 girls D1 4 x 200 record with an excellent 1:41.49 showing and Sheboygan Lutheran becoming the first D3 boys 4 x 800 team to go under eight minutes with a 7:58.55 clocking.
*A popular victory on the sunny weekend was that of Shorewood senior distance runner Claire Maduza. She had won the D2 3,200 in both her freshmen and sophomore years but injuries slowed her down her junior campaign. She made a healthy run at the D2 record this particular weekend, coming up a little short, but you couldn’t tell that from the rounds of applause showering down on the diminutive powerhouse with the snow-white hair as she hit the finish first once again.
She welcomed the energy and returned it in the form of a beaming smile and broad enthusiastic waves of her hands as she joined a rare elite of three-time event champions.
“To go out with a win is the most important thing,” she said. “They say this (the energy of the crowd) gets old, but it really doesn’t, not for me.”
*Another unique repeat double was turned in by Steve Markson in the D1 800 and his Whitefish Bay 4 x 800 relay team. The Blue Dukes were having a great year, having already won the D1 boys cross country crown the previous fall, after Markson and the relay had both won at the 2005 state track meet.
They were confident about winning track titles again in 2006 but an injury to a returning relay runner put a damper on hopes of setting a record, but a couple of good omens occurred including running into a young coach out east while the Blue Dukes were competing in the Penn Relays.
The coach happened to have been part of the Verona 4 x 800 relay which held the record Bay was chasing.
“He took a picture with us and even wished us well,” said then Bay coach Mike Miller.
That was enough as replacement runner Kevin Sullivan proved to be a great fit. Markson won the 800 again and the Blue Dukes took more than two seconds off Verona’s relay record with a 7:44.92 mark which is still in the state top 10 all time.
Miller looked at the big picture, gauging how three straight seasons of state-level track and cross country success will look and feel to those involved in the future.
“As the years go by, this will become sweeter and sweeter,” he said. “You just need your athletes to be this excited and to have such a love for the sport as these guys do. They’ve sacrificed a lot for this.”
And just for good measure, at the Midwest Distance Gala later that summer, Markson turned in a blistering 1:52.09 800, which was then the third fastest of all time.
And speaking of the big picture, consider Andrew Lacy of McFarland. He successfully defended his D2 boys 3,200 crown, carrying the heavy weight of expectation of not only being the son of state distance running legend Steve Lacy, but also being the nephew of Menomonee Falls distance titans Tim, Jeff and Bill Hacker.
He got some good advice from Dad when thinking about that kind of pressure.
“My Dad just told me don’t worry about time, just run your race,” Andrew said. “He also told me that I have to run as myself. Don’t get caught up thinking that you have to be the next Steve Lacy or the next Steve Prefontaine.
“Just be the best Andrew Lacy possible.”
The Waukesha West girls finished off an impressive three-peat of titles, edging Hudson for the D1 girls title on the strength of one of the fastest 4 x 400s in many years with 3:55.83 clocking. They also placed in the top four in all three of the other relays too and picked up individual titles from 100 dash champ Jenna Sitte and Alyssa Beste in the 3,200. Sitte had also won the 100 in 2004.
Also serving up a repeat was D2 girls champ Lakeside Lutheran, which cemented it championship with a win in the 4 x 400.
And behind 100 and 200 sprint champ Jessica Holchaus, Rosholt made it four state D3 girls team titles in six years.
Boys state athlete of the year Dave Pede of Wisconsin Lutheran was flying under the radar heading into this season, but he filled the shoes of graduated distance stars Chris Solinsky and Chris Rombaugh most ably, running swift times in both the D1 1,600 and 3,200 to easily win both races.
He knew he was in the right place at the right time and that none of these good things would have happened without having had the character building experience of getting knocked down and then having to dust himself off and start over again.
“It’s not the running so much that I like but the competition,” he said. “You occasionally get your head snapped back but’s that what happens sometimes.”
In track, it seems, almost everyone has to learn that lesson.
NEXT TIME: Beutler takes down a legend, Perkins comes out of the shadows, Annear and Jenkins make the jumps fashionable and Senaya gets her team title.