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'Athletic Fields Forever' Campaign Rubs Off on High School's Athletes

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Copyright 2013 Journal Sentinel Inc.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Wisconsin)
November 3, 2013 Sunday
Early Edition
Sports; Pg. 9
816 words
Oconomowoc programs, facilities enjoying parallel improvements | PREPS ALCOVE
JR RADCLIFFE, Lake Country Reporter (Hartland, WI)

The official confirmation of "Edward C. Rux Stadium" could not come at a more appropriate time.

As the Oconomowoc High School football team, with a record at 10-0 after Oct. 25, prepared for the WIAA playoffs, word came down from the Oconomowoc Area School Board that the stadium would be named in honor of the legendary coach, a WIFCA Hall of Fame inductee in 1999 who led the team from 1967 to 1999. He won 10 conference titles, reached the playoffs 12 times, and led the Raccoons to one statechampionship appearance in 1987, a heartbreaking 3-0 loss to Fond du Lac.

The naming was designed to coincide with the improvements to the stadium, scheduled as part of the Athletic Fields Forever campaign. Assuming all elements go smoothly, the stadium will have a new track and artificial turf in time for the 2014 kickoff. A group of OHS alumni contacted several of Rux's former players in a campaign to raise the funds that would equate to the cost of naming rights, with the intent to name the stadium after Rux.

It's a nod to the good old days, which is important for a program that is slowly but surely finding the good old days on its own. From 1986 to 1988, Oconomowoc did not lose a regularseason football game, a feat that was never accomplished again at the school until now.

The milestones have piled up, and as the outdoor athletic fields undergo improvements under AFF, the glossy shine seems to be rubbing off on the athletes themselves. Though success has touched all the sports at OHS, nothing quite galvanizes a community like a successful football team, particularly in Oconomowoc where city and small-town living seem to so perfectly co-exist.

Success across sports

For two straight years, Oconomowoc has won the Wisconsin Little Ten "All-Sports Award," and the school has a head start on this year's as well, with two conference champions, three runners-up and two third-place finishers among the 2013 fall teams.

Among them: the football team, which won the conference title for the first time since 2002, won a playoff game for the first time since 2001 and also topped Wisconsin Lutheran for the first time since 2001. On Homecoming before a mammoth crowd, that game became instantly cemented in legend when the Raccoons defeated the Vikings, 84-82, a game that made national headlines and shattered the previous state record for combined point total by 33 points.

It will surely serve as the signature moment of Oconomowoc's turnaround until the school captures a state title. The school hasn't landed one of any kind since 2005 in the traditional WIAA sports (Brad Blersch in wrestling) and just the one since 1998, with no WIAA team titles since 1981 (though the team does have two team titles in the fledgling wheelchair division of the girls track and field meet behind solo racer Melanie Watson, as well as a non-WIAA sailing title). Sophomore cross-country runner Marlie Houston headed to the state meet Saturday with a very strong chance to add to that mantle, and the football team is showing it belongs in the title conversation.

Last spring was perhaps a turning point for Oconomowoc. On the heels of the wrestling team winning its first conference title since 1998 - another return to glory for a program that once owned the WLT - Oconomowoc won spring titles in girls soccer, baseball, boys track and field and softball. The boys track team, which never had a chance to compete on its own track after it fell below proper quality conditions, was ranked as high as No. 2 in the state and came into the state meet as a potential winner. The 2013 senior class produced six Division 1 college athletes.

Changes ahead?

Regardless of how 2013 plays out, the football team has made a name for itself under fifth-year coach Ryan McMillen and given the community yet another reason to believe in the direction of the athletics program.

Wisconsin Lutheran has asked the WIAA to seek realignment from the Little Ten, citing (reasonably) travel concerns. The domino effect of any change could alter the landscape of Milwaukee-area athletics, since it's never as simple as merely removing one team and replacing it with another. Several leagues could be affected, and with the unfriendly travel conditions in the WLT, it seems entirely possible that the conference's days are numbered as a whole.

Should Oconomowoc wind up elsewhere, perhaps an expanded or re-drawn Classic 8, the school will have yet another challenge against some of the state's premier athletic programs, including some very close geographic rivals. OHS seems more prepared than ever to take that potential scenario head-on.

When the Raccoons gaze upon the new-look Edward C. Rux Stadium, or even at the banners around the state-of-the-art field house, they'll have reason to think about the storied past, all the while adding chapter after chapter to the present.

Copyright 2013 Journal Sentinel, All Rights Reserved.

November 2, 2013

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