SPORTS STORIES OF THE YEAR
- DQ ends Bird’s storied wrestling career
Two-time state champion Josh Bird suffered an unfortunate end to his storied career at a WIAA regional back in February.
According to the referee at Muskego High School, Bird hit his opponent with aggressive, clubbing blows that teetered on a closed fist.
Wrestlers are only allowed to use an open hand, which Bird claimed he used, but he was nonetheless disqualified, which eliminated him from postseason competition and squashed any possibility of a third state championship.
Grappling in a leg brace that began a few inches above his left knee and extended to his shin, Bird labored to a 2-1 deficit against Greenfield’s Nicholas Pollack in a Division 1 regional semifinal.
According to multiple Burlington sources, Pollack attacked Bird’s injured knee in a physical match.
They said Bird responded by slapping Pollack in the face repeatedly. Whether it was flagrant is the subject of debate.
Visibly frustrated from his injury limitations, Bird’s out- burst caused the referee to disqualify him midway through the first period.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the referee stopped the match near the edge of the outer circle and called Bird for the flagrant foul, and Bird “made an obscene gesture” to the Muskego crowd as he stormed off the mat. Bird denied the accusation in an interview.
Bird, who is the only wrestler in school history to win multiple state titles and reach three state championship matches, finished his season 34-2 and would’ve been the No. 1-ranked wrestler at 138 had he not been hampered by injury.
A raw video of the match garnered nearly14,000 views on myracinecounty.com, and Bird’s physical style then became a topic of much debate about whether disqualification was justified.
“Josh didn’t try to hurt the kid,” his former coach Jade Gribble said. “He has worked really hard to get to where he is.”
“I had an assistant coach follow him off the mat, and he said Josh didn’t flip off the crowd. I’m not saying his actions during the match weren’t flagrant. He just didn’t punch anyone.”
Gribble stressed he isn’t condoning Bird’s actions “at all,” but some coaches even en- courage clubbing forearms.
“I saw an open-handed jab to the forehead,” Gribble said. “I’m not blaming the referee one bit.”
Bird won his first match of the day by pin in 56 seconds, his first match since Jan. 22. He was wrestling with a large leg brace extending from his thigh to his ankle.
According to Josh’s father Kevin Bird, doctors strongly discouraged his son from competing at all because of torn ligaments in his left knee, and Kevin and his wife, Caryn, also didn’t want Josh out there.
“Caryn and I knew we could not make the decision, he had to make it,” Kevin said of Josh. “The doctor thought it would heal on its own with therapy in six to eight weeks and aggravating it would most likely mean surgery.”
“Given the circumstances that happened, it may be a blessing in disguise that the chips fell as they did.”
5. Neuhaus involved in serious car crash, returns after one year
Catholic Central senior Austin Neuhaus endured a whirlwind of emotions and body changes in 2016.
A New Year’s Day car crash, in which Neuhaus drove two friends in his pickup truck, slipped on black ice and slammed into a tree, resulted in Neuhaus being rushed to the intensive care unit at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin with a broken C-2 vertebra, a broken leg and a broken jaw, as well as bleeding in his brain.
His year-long journey back to basketball is complete, as Neuhaus had his neck brace and crutches gone by the summer.
Two weeks ago, Neuhaus returned to the court for the first time to a standing ovation.
While in Children’s Hospital, Catholic Central hosted a fundraiser basketball game against Racine Lutheran for Neuhaus, who’s also referred to as “Peanut.”
It was a sea of white as spectators from the entire community, Catholic Central and Burlington high schools alike, packed the Topper gym in support of Neuhaus.
Along with T-shirt sales, a grand total of $3,523 was raised.
Neuhaus underwent his second surgery the same night as the games.
“It’s phenomenal,” said Catholic Central boys assistant coach Dan Meddaugh, who gave a speech during the festivities. “It was a great opportunity to rally around Austin for a real cause. The community is backing him. The Burlington basketball team was here, which is phenomenal. Even the Racine Lutheran teams bought shirts and donated to the cause.”
“As a coach and teacher of Austin, he works hard in everything that he does. If there’s anything we can do to alleviate any worries that his family has, we’ll do our best.”
Meddaugh said Racine Lutheran families and fans were taking pictures with the Catholic Central families before the game, as everyone wore their “Team Peanut” shirt.
6. Tiedt commits to Wisconsin Badgers
It was an unbelievable year for 2016 Burlington High School graduate Hegeman Tiedt, and most of it happened in one month.
The multi-sport athlete committed as a preferred walk-on for the Wisconsin Badgers football team in early February, signing on as a defensive end hopeful.
At the end of the month, Tiedt capped off his first state wrestling tournament appearance with a fourth-place finish at 220 pounds.
This past week, Tiedt and the Wisconsin Badgers flew down to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas for their Jan. 2 matchup with undefeated Western Michigan (13-0).
The 10-3 Badgers kick off at noon on ESPN, and Tiedt will wear No. 64.
Officially listed at 6-foot-4, 235 pounds on Wisconsin’s website, Tiedt had some advice for fellow student-athletes back in March.
“It’s been absolutely phenomenal,” Tiedt said of his journey. “One thing I’ve pulled away is no matter what the score, no matter what the day, you’ve got to give 110 percent.”
“My goal is to perform at my absolute greatness, no matter what that means.”
7. Burlington soccer erases futility before forfeiting wins
For the first time since 2013, the Burlington boys soccer squad won a match in 2016.
In fact, the team started 4-0 in what seemed like a turnaround of fortunes for a program that suffered two straight winless seasons.
But a month into the season, an ineligibility was discovered, and the Demons’ record suddenly changed
from 5-3 to 0-8.
Due to a paperwork error involving grades, an ineligible student-athlete was mistakenly allowed to play in games.
WIAA rules said Burlington immediately had to forfeit its wins, and the Demons didn’t notch a victory the remainder of the season.
“It’s pretty brutal,” Molitor said over the phone Tuesday night. “We told the boys before the Waterford game Friday. It was a paperwork mistake. He should’ve been ineligible from day one. We self-reported it as soon as we knew.”
“We were really turning this program around. It feels like a punch in the gut to have those wins taken away.”
8. Football is for girls, too
Normally, extra points aren’t very exciting.
The crowd is still freaking from the touchdown moments prior, and the short kick that only counts for one point is often unnoticed.
But on Oct. 7 amid a 37-0 Burlington blowout of Elkhorn, Cora Anderson brought some excitement to the underrated scoring play.
With a 26-0 lead, Burlington freshman Cora Anderson tacked on the extra point, the first point by a female in a football game in school history.
“We had the opportunity to get Cora some game experience on the varsity,” Tenhagen said. “She has a great leg and will be in contention next year for our kicking position. It was great to see our team embrace her.”
9. Burlington softball, girls soccer make history, house fire rallies community
It was a huge season for the Burlington softball team, which won a school-record 21 games and advanced to its first sectional since 2014.
Also, the Burlington girls soccer squad, behind four goals from Merin Mundt, paralyzing back-end defense and strong play from first-year goalies Megan Oliver and Adeline Jachim, Burlington, defeated Waterford, 7-2, back in early June for its first regional championship in school history, boys or girls.
The Burlington soccer programs began in the early 1990s.
Though the softball girls fell in the sectional semifinal, their generosity marked one of the most touching moments of 2016.
During the regular season, Delavan-Darien’s Holly Allen lost her home in a fire, and when Burlington’s Danielle Koenen found out, she decided to get involved.
Koenen said the softball community takes care of its own, regardless of the color of the jersey.
“They have become my second family,” Koenen said of the local softball community. “Being with a group of girls in both high school ball and travel ball really brings us close. It’s as simple as just having a group to listen when you are having a bad day. We may not always be best friends off the field, but as soon as we are playing I know they have my back.”
Allen said the help from Burlington, which included big boxes of clothes, shoes and other essentials, along with donations passed in a helmet during the game against Burlington, was much appreciated.
“The softball team’s assistance made me feel very happy and put me in a better position,” Allen said.
10. Catholic Central baseball storms through playoffs
Under first-year coach Jim Friend, a former Burlington coach who took the Demons to the state tournament in 1991, the Catholic Central baseball team hovered around .500 in the regular season.
But things began clicking in the postseason, as the Toppers nearly advanced to state.
On June 7 in Johnson Creek, the Toppers were less than six outs away from a state berth, but a series of miscues led to four Green Bay NEW Lutheran runs.
Catholic Central came back to tie the score at 6-6, but a walk-off hit dashed their state dreams.
Catholic Central finished the season 15-16.
The Toppers, behind three hits and five RBIs from Charles Robinson and a complete-game pitching performance from Vandehei, knocked off Pecatonica, 7-5, in the sectional semifinal.
Top 10 Most-Viewed Sports Stories on www.myracinecounty.com
- Video: Wrestler’s father asks viewers to be the judge, 13,911 views
- Fair or foul? Wrestler shouldn’t have been disqualified, needs community support, 2,969
- Burlington football star commits to Wisconsin Badgers, 2,818
- Hitting the reset button: Local student breaks silence about serious car accident, 2,678
- Burlington wrestler’s storybook career ends on sour note with DQ, 1,895
- Late rally lifts Burlington baseball to first state championship, 1,352
- Former Burlington gymnast takes over as head coach, 1,184
- Burlington’s Wightman looks to bounce back on road to recovery, 1,178
- This win’s for Peanut (Austin Neuhaus), 1,153
- Waterford bulldozes Burlington in blowout victory, 1,042